D

Not Easily Broken

D

Not Easily Broken

Director: Bill Duke
Cast: Terrell Byrd

Bill Duke made a spectacular transition from hulking character actor to big-screen filmmaker with the impressive one-two punch of 1991's A Rage In Harlem—a flavorful adaptation of a Chester Himes novel—and 1992's Deep Cover, a mesmerizing thriller that combined the moral haze and sinister rhythms of classic film noir with a nuanced critique of the hypocrisy and compromises of the war on drugs. Duke has alternated between acting and filmmaking since then, but the abundant promise of his first films has gone egregiously unfulfilled. Duke hits his directorial nadir with the dire Christian message movie Not Easily Broken, a clunky adaptation of a novel by celebrity super-pastor and "Prosperity Gospel" proponent T.D. Jakes. It's as simplistic, reductive, and heavy-handed as Deep Cover was gloriously ambiguous.

Morris Chestnut (who also produced) stars as a former college-baseball hotshot whose dreams of major-league glory ended with a career-killing injury. Chestnut channels his thwarted ambitions into coaching Little League, running a humble but successful small business, and being a devoted, patient husband to evil shrew Taraji P. Henson, a monomaniacal real-estate-selling machine. Chestnut desperately wants to start a family, but his emasculating, career-crazed wife nixes his fantasies of proud parenthood, apparently because she can't stand the idea of a malevolent parasite living inside her womb rent-free. When Henson is seriously injured in a car accident, her behavior goes from bad to worse, and her equally evil, man-hating mother moves in to further torment Chestnut, who contemplates cheating on his wife with the big-hearted mother (Maeve Quinlan) of one of his Little Leaguers.

Like the simpatico films of Tyler Perry, Not Easily Broken occupies a churchy, didactic universe of saintly, too-good-to-be-true men and evil, soul-sucking women. Henson disparages Chestnut's coaching career as bitterly as if he was molesting his young charges, not lovingly mentoring them. Yet the film's "Can this marriage be saved?" melodrama perversely asks audiences to root for the preservation of a fraying bond between a nearly perfect man of boundless kindness and generosity, and his hideous succubus of a wife. For a film shamelessly trumpeting the importance of staying together through the hard times, Broken makes a disconcertingly convincing case for divorce.