At a down-home church in Pacashau, Georgia, GG (Parton) is peeved when she's not offered the job after her choir-director father (a brief Kris Kristofferson cameo) dies. The new leader is her rival Vi Rose (Latifah), who plans to win the upcoming regional competition with pure gospel. To further stir things up, GG's bad-boy grandson Randy (Jordan) is back in town, and he's smitten with Vi Rose's 16-year-old daughter Olivia (Palmer).
The film has a light, goofy tone, balancing the smiley comedy with an undercurrent of tetchy attitude. Vi Rose's piety is oppressive, leading of course to rebellion from Olivia and her wannabe-cool brother Walter (Darden), who has both Asberger's and, like everyone else, a killer voice. She also clashes with GG, who wants to give the choir a more competitive edge with pop tunes. Meanwhile, furtive romances among the singers play out in sometimes farcical ways that are simplistic but occasionally amusing.
Oddly, Graff tames both Latifah and Parton with the corny script and a soft-pedalled approach that seems contrived to appeal to religious audiences at the expense of anyone who knows what the real world is like. There are moments when we glimpse the actors' sassy personalities, but the grinding mechanisms of the half-hearted plot never let them burst into full-energy mode. And honestly, how do you cast Martin (as Vi Rose's estranged husband) in a musical and not let him sing?
Like Sister Act, the best thing about the film is the way it reinterprets pop songs as gospel choir numbers, including rousing renditions of Man in the Mirror, Maybe I'm Amazed and Signed, Sealed, Delivered. The competition sequences are big and fabulous, easily the film's best scenes because they not only allow the cast members to cut loose from the strains of the rather silly plot, but they explode with passion that makes the movie worth seeing.
Run time: 118 mins
In Theaters: Friday 13th January 2012
Box Office USA: $30.9M
Box Office Worldwide: 30
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Alcon Entertainment, Warner Bros. Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 33%
Fresh: 40 Rotten: 80
IMDB: 5.6 / 10
Director: Todd Graff
Producer: Joseph Farrell, Broderick Johnson, Andrew A Kosove, Michael G Nathanson, Catherine Paura
Screenwriter: Todd Graff
Starring: Queen Latifah as Vi Rose Hill, Dolly Parton as G.G. Sparrow, Keke Palmer as Olivia Palmer, Kris Kristofferson as Bernard Sparrow, Courtney B. Vance as Pastor Dale, Jeremy Jordan as Randy Garrity