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Miles Montego (Ja Rule) has it all - cars, boats, good looks, mansion, money, women, but more importantly, he has a past. Miles is a retired high level drug trafficker who is now completely legitimate. Even though Miles has turned over a new leaf, the DEA can't seem to let him out of their sights. Miles' only downfall is that he is extremely loyal to his circle of friends and former colleagues who are not retired from the lucrative business. Struggling to keep on the right side of the law, Miles meets the one girl of his dreams but she's not the usual type of girl that he's used to dating. Vanessa (Adrienne Bailon) is a church girl in every sense of the word. They are tested to their last ounce of faith and strength in God and each other. God continues to chip away at Miles through struggles from his past, having to live up to his reputation, feelings of unworthiness, the death of his mother, federal charges, his friends being indicted, the strain on his relationship with Vanessa, ... Written by
Destined to be underestimated (for good reason) but reveals itself to be something more than its subgenre would suggest
As one can maybe infer from the title, I'm in Love With a Church Girl exists in that strange little subsector of American cinema that I probably should be getting tired of, but still find myself weirdly interested in - contemporary Christian cinema. Every year, especially 2014 for some reason, we are given one or two of these low-budget films, sometimes boasting names we recognize, and other times, coming completely out of left field. The films are sometimes less films and more long-winded sermons that, by the end of their runtime, have done nothing but tirelessly preach to the choir and can be metaphorically compared to a preacher who gets so wrapped up in what they're preaching they circle back to their point several times as they race around the stage with their face bathed in sweat and their voice getting more and more raspy as time goes on.
At least with the abundance of Christian films that seem to center themselves on storyline improbabilities and contrivances, at least this one seems more focused on dealing with a grimmer reality than many other films of the genre. Similar to King's Faith - a film I thought quite highly of thanks to the use of reality and honesty rather than sugarcoated simplifications - this film doesn't hesitate to offer depictions of rough gangs, pessimistic forces, and, ultimately, tries to come to a conclusion as to why people join gangs in the first place and, more importantly, why they remain involved despite the massive amount of things that could go wrong.
The film focuses on Miles Montego (played by rapper Jeff "Ja Rule" Atkins), a wealthy and loyal drug dealer, who meets a nice Christian girl named Vanessa Leon (Adrienne Bailon) at a party. The two begin a relationship, but the immediate difference is that Vanessa is a devout believer and a loyalist to her local church and community while Miles simply strikes deals around the local church and thinks of the community, as a whole, as a haven for paying customers. Despite Miles moving away from the local drug scene, Vanessa still wishes Miles was more involved in a faithful life.
For Vanessa, he decides to adopt a life more geared towards reading the Bible rather than ignoring it. However, Miles realizes his time may be limited due to the fact that persistent DEA agents are watching him like hawks, specifically Agent Jason McDaniels (Stephen Baldwin), who is just waiting for Miles' next false move.
Admittedly, despite acknowledging certain realities in the world that are unable to avoid (there is no such thing as the purebread, normal, American family and issues like drug addiction and social irresponsibility are hard to ignore in modern American films. However, director Steve Race and writer Galley Molina still make the misstep almost all contemporary Christian films make, which is their inability to portray the non-believing community as people who are moral and functioning well despite a lack of outspoken beliefs. Consider Miles, who's life is magically turned around after he meets Vanessa, a good Christian girl and decides to assume a life of faith. I anxiously await a Christian film that shows us that even if someone is an Atheist that doesn't immediately make them a bad person, incapable of making wise, moral decisions.
The film does get other additional fields down, however, despite some glaring miscalculations still present. Atkins and Bailon are both pretty good actors, and their ability to spark watchable chemistry that never treads the line of boredom is actually something that keeps the film interesting overall. On top of that, even the film's runtime - which is two minutes shy of two hours - doesn't feel that long in retrospect, as it shows a gradual change in Miles, even if the change is a questionable one. I'm in Love With a Church Girl qualifies as, something I call, "a major-minor movie," or a film that is gravely underestimated and receives a barrage of negative reviews but just so happens to have several good qualities, even if it isn't perfect. In the realm of sermons disguised as films, this is one of the better ones you could watch.
Starring: Jeff "Ja Rule" Atkins, Adrienne Bailon, and Stephen Baldwin. Directed by: Steve Race.
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