As the writer-director of such softcore favorites as Trois and Trois 2: Pandora's Box, and the executive producer of Trois 3: The Escortwhich no doubt was needed to tie up all the loose ends its predecessors leftRob Hardy would seem a strange choice to write and direct an overtly Christian movie like The Gospel. But it's easy to see autobiographical echoes in its tale of a lascivious bump-and-grind artist (dreamy Boris Kodjoe) who's made his fortune in the steamiest, sauciest regions of secular entertainment, only to return home, literally and spiritually, and reinvent himself as a force in the Christian entertainment world. Unfortunately, Hardy's spiritual evolution didn't come with an accompanying leap in craftsmanship or storytelling ability. The light of the Lord might fill its characters with purpose and joy, but the film's murky lighting, framing, and production values all seem more direct-to-video than cinematic.
Artlessly juxtaposing The Jazz Singer with every movie that revolves around plucky souls putting on a big show to raise money for a worthy cause, The Gospel casts Kodjoe as an R&B; hunk who turned his back on his religious upbringing 15 years ago, but returns home when he learns that his bishop father has contracted prostate cancer. Once back, he throws himself enthusiastically into saving his father's church, romances a pretty, god-fearing single mother (American Idol's Tamyra Gray), and faces off against a childhood pal who wants to use the pulpit to glorify and praise himself and his bloated ego rather than the Lord. It all inevitably leads up to a climactic concert (featuring real-life gospel stars) meant to raise money for a new church. Then the film lingers on interminably afterwards, wrapping up various plodding subplots it never should have introduced in the first place.
Unsurprisingly, the unimaginatively filmed but high-intensity gospel performances prove a highlight, radiating an energy and urgency that the film's stilted dialogue, awkward romance, and clunky plotting can only aspire to. Then again, from its title on, The Gospel is pretty much preaching to the converted, who are most inclined to forgive the film's aesthetic sins in light of its larger spiritual mission. For them, the film's value will go far beyond mere creative considerations. Still, for a movie that's chockfull o' Jesus, The Gospel is almost wholly lacking in grace.