Without an output for their creative juices—Twitter mistresses aside— 2013 has seen some weird turns for our 90s rap phenomena. Missy Elliott recorded with Little Mix, Nas has a fellowship at Harvard, DMX's life in general..but what of Jeff "Ja Rule" Atkins?
Released from prison in May 2013, following a two year bid on gun charges, Ja Rule, like all rappers, wanted to remain in the spotlight and like most people fresh out of prison he was looking for something redemptive to atone for his crimes. Christian Cinema, then, was a natural fit.
I’m In Love With A Church Girl plays out like Carlito’s Way if the team behind Beverly Hills Chihuahua produced it; an endearing crime figure trying to quit the business, through the pursuit of the good girl, finds faith or dies. As I don’t live in America I can’t go see the film, so I decided to take a look at the trailer to give you the gist.
The trailer sequence begins by documenting how much fun Miles Montego, played by Ja Rule, has being a retired international drug dealer, and the access to expensive pleasures it gives him. Like drinking shots in a club that looks like a Glaswegian public toilet…
…walking a red carpet to your own G6…
…being able to hold two guns in the way that tells everyone that shit is about to get real…
…hanging out with the guys from Entourage…
…and white guys that look like back up dancers from a Justin Timberlake video.
It’s not till Pussy Bonpensiero shows up that the film gets its first bit of depth. He slows the cocaine fuelled momentum of the first few scenes to impart some words of wisdom “Just don’t let money rule your life”. Wise words, but does Vincent Pastore have a jet? Is he friends with white guys that have the money bought confidence to rock Fedora’s with total insouciance? It’s going to take more than Puss to put the fear in Miles.
To provide that fear we cut to Michael Madsen (WTF?) who is pretty red in the face about Miles getting away with all that drug trafficking and quitting before he could get caught, or it could just be the resultant explosion within his network of facial capillaries after drinking the amount of alcohol it took to stop his pride from turning down a role in the film. Or not, just saying.
Then Stephen Baldwin makes a duckfaced addition to Madsen’s haunting vision of a meth addict FBI agent.
They’re both pretty annoyed at Miles, with Madsen making the point that he probably wears what they earn in a year on his wrist. Which sounds like a complicated accessory.
Now we have our equilibrium—Ja Rule, retired drug dealer, enjoying his wealth whilst haggard 90s cult cinema regulars, Baldwin and Madsen, look for ways to piss on his bonfire—all we need is the crucible. This crucible is actually a church, which confused the hell out of me, as I’m sure it’s also where the Lakers play.
Boom, and here’s Miles’ mom who delivers the inciting incident with a casual “You need to go to church with me and find yourself a good woman.” Easy as you like, who said this film business is hard? I could do this.
Meet Vanessa, played by Adrienne Bailon from Making the Band winners and vacuum formed girl band, 3LW, who tore up the charts with this summer scorcher.
Our man Pussy, points her out to Miles at what looks like the Catalina Wine Mixer, where she looks to be in attendance with her new girl group Disparate Housewives. He also points out that, wait for it, she goes to church.
Eventually she ends up at his place but not without some top quality schmoozing on Miles’ part, whereby Vanessa asks him what church he attends forcing Miles to recover with a neatly ambiguous "I’m in between churches right now". Lad.
From Jeremy Kyle to Shakespeare if there ever was a sure fire way to kick the hornet’s nest it's introducing the crazy in-law into the mix. Sure enough, in wades Vanessa’s mom to point out that Vanessa is in need of a godly man, are you that godly man Miles, huh? Are you? I’m just thankful they went with over-zealous mom rather than racist stepfather.
Miles, concerned that he isn’t godly enough, tells Vanessa he used to be a drug dealer. It’s worth mentioning at the end of the syllable "–er " the music switches from Gospel Choir to breakbeat rap track and we settle in for a car smashing, handcuffing, DEA busting sequence.
God tests the relationship with a good old-fashioned montage, nothing tests the faith of humanity like a good montage. The Entourage guys get busted and they keep leaving guns in Miles' car, which is a tough one to explain to your Christian girlfriend, and Ja Rule is indicted, lashing out by knocking some paper off a desk. All in all it’s a tough sequence to watch, not in the way that The Boy In Striped Pajamas is hard to watch but more in the way that Ricky Gervais is hard to watch.
Miles questions whether God would even want him in his church, which misses the point of church entirely, so the two immediately head to the spaceship church we saw before. That’s the Pastor in the Lambo by the way, played by the films writer, Galley Molina, whose life is fictionalised in the film. Keep up.
What’s most interesting here is the immediate symbiosis between Pastor and drug dealer. To eulogise, sorry, the sanctity of priesthood by the virtue of its lucrative benefits seems like a departure from faith. Judging by what we’ve seen of Ja Rule’s character so far he gets the same perks from drug dealing as Molina does from preaching. The appropriation of drug culture to make Christianity look cooler, and Pastors look like Coolio, just makes me think there are parishes in America that exploit impoverished community like drug dealers. Stay with me here...
Following a collection of awkward moments in church where Miles commits every cute social faux pas you could think of—save letting out a fart during the congregation and downing the holy water—we reach the denouement, Vanessa gives Miles a bible with his name in gold inscription, one of those presents that’s definitely more about the gesture.
She makes up for it though with a sloppy coming together over coffee and condiments at the local diner.
Finally, we end up here. With Miles giving what looks to be the climactic monologue that defines how his relationship with faith has changed after falling in love with a church Girl.
Honestly, this looks nothing short of your straight to DVD Christian movie with some dubiously expensive casting, it’s certainly not going to increase Bible sales nor will it raise the dying profiles of the majority of the supporting cast.
However, where the film fails to deliver, Jeff "Ja Rule" Atkins does. It is apparent, even from the trailer, that Ja Rule can act, his gravelly tones are reticent of a whole roster of rappers who’ve made successful forays in film, from DMX to Method Man.
Hopefully, he’ll be rewarded, because from the outset this looks like a crazier move than all of his struggling rap compatriots have made this year. Yet, on the face of it, he might’ve actually found something he can put time into and start to mould a career around. I hope he does well, I mean at least he’ll "always be on time".
Follow James on Twitter @Bainosorus