By Roger Moore
It’s a familiar story that lacks ambition.
“Not Easily Broken” is a marriage-in-crisis melodrama baked from the Tyler Perry recipe.
Take a good-looking, mostly black cast, put them in an affluent setting, paint the characters in broad “symbolic” strokes, place the marriage in jeopardy, add a little “Take it to the Lord in prayer” sermonizing and you’ve got a movie.
Brian Bird’s script, taken from T.D. Jakes’ novel, has something to say about marriage, manhood and even race. But did somebody actually pay Bird for typing the phrase “On up in here” in every page of the script, or “I got this,” or the hoariest African-American screen cliche of all, the best friend who starts every sentence with “Giiiiiiiiiirl”? The groaning triviality of the dialogue works against the cast and director Bill Duke, as does the sermonizing voice-over narration by the lead, Morris Chestnut.
Chestnut plays Dave, a onetime aspiring ballplayer who blew out his knee and now runs a small home-improvement business. His wife, Clarice (Taraji P. Henson of “Talk to Me” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), is the main bread-winner, a high-end real-estate broker who has them living beyond their means. Dave narrates his problems and his philosophy of life onto the soundtrack.
“The world took away a man’s reasons for being a man,” he gripes. “Church is like a hospital. It’s where sick people go to get well.”
Clarice doles out petty humiliations to Dave in front of her clients, and then turns bitter after a crippling car accident. Jenifer Lewis plays the shrewish mother-in-law who moves in with them, doubling the nagging. Meanwhile, Dave hangs with his boys — both his pals (Kevin Hart plays the funny one) and young, underprivileged baseball players he coaches. He takes an interest in one kid’s mom (Mauve Quinlan). Niecy Nash is here to blurt out “Giiiiiirlll” and “Don’t make me go all Oprah on you” or “Don’t go all SSLqWaiting to Exhale’ on me.”
And the regal Albert Hall (SDLqApocalypse NowSDRq) is the bishop who keeps reminding the struggling couple of their marriage vows, the “cord with three strands” religious metaphor that will make it all better.
It’s not a terrible movie, just a pandering one, a film that you’re sure you’ve seen before. Many times. Maybe we all should take some comfort from the fact that Hollywood studios are no longer copying generic rapper thrillers set “in the ’hood.” But where’s the ambition in warming over a Madea sermon without Madea?