The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Jesus People

Just because you can make a movie in the style of a Christopher Guest comedy doesn't mean it will be as funny as one. Jesus People is proof of that. Made in the “mockumentary” style popularized by Guest's Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show - and popularized on TV by The Office and Parks & Recreation - this spoof of Christian rock music repeatedly misses its target, despite the fact that there's plenty of ammunition in anything related to the music industry. Jesus People has been sitting around since 2009, and having seen it, it's clear why.

Joel McCrary plays Pastor Jerry, a man of the cloth who receives some dire news from his doctor. Worried what will become of his teenage son - who he believes is headed straight for Hell - after his death, Pastor Jerry decides to do something to engage the boy in religion. His answer is to create a “hip” Christian pop group that his son will like. First, he has to recruit singers. They are, to say the least, a motley bunch: a disgraced former star named Gloria Hamming (Edi Patterson); aspiring teenage pastor Zak (Damon Pfaff); Cara (Lindsay Stidham), a teen girl with no particular religious convictions; and Ty (Richard Pierre-Louis), the only sensible one in the group. Pastor Jerry guides the band, dubbed Cross My Heart, to a hit song, then tries to move them over into the mainstream, only to find that the prayerful message of the song gets lost in the remix.

A handful of well-known actors show up for cameos, including Reno 911's Wendi McLendon-Covey, who plays Cara's tacky hairdresser mother, and a pre-fame Octavia Spencer, whose turn as a YouTube gospel singer is largely relegated to the end credits.

Jesus People has a premise that's ripe for humor. The movie doesn't seem to know that, though, because it repeatedly and consistently fails to exploit the possibilities. The humor is played way too safe, as if the filmmakers were afraid of offending anyone. For example, Cara is only pretending to be religious because she wants to be in a pop group. You might think there could be jokes related to, say, her attempts to hide her un-Christian extracurricular activities from her bandmates, but all we get is an awkward look from her when the amorous Zak assumes she is a virgin. Satire, by definition, needs to be much more pointed, much edgier. I'm not saying they needed to mock Christians or engage in blasphemy, but when the jokes are this watered down, there's nothing funny about them. Ironically, the one time Jesus People does go for full outrageousness, it's with a truly offensive 9/11 joke. Granted, the gag is supposed to be offensive in the context of the scene, but because it's not even remotely laugh-inducing, it comes off as tasteless.

Moreover, Jesus People makes the fatal mistake of failing to convince us that the band hits it big. The song we repeatedly hear them sing is terrible, and their live performances are beyond amateurish. Again, the filmmakers may have thought the idea of such a bad act gaining popularity was funny, yet Cross My Heart aren't realistically bad enough to score a fluke hit. Bad one-hit wonders – think Gerardo, Baha Men, or those guys who sing “What Does the Fox Say?” - somehow manage to create songs that are ridiculously, almost psychopathically, catchy, so that you can't get them out of your head no matter how hard you try. They also have well-defined, if admittedly goofy, stage personas. The group in Jesus People just isn't convincing enough to elicit laughs of recognition. It doesn't help that the cast completely lacks the indispensable sort of group chemistry that is essential to the mockumentary format. They barely seem to be appearing in the same movie.

There are a couple minor chuckles scattered throughout Jesus People, largely provided by the cameos. By and large, though, this is a weak satire that has no interest in skewering anyone or anything. For a much funnier music mockumentary, stick with Christopher Guest's A Mighty Wind.

( 1/2 out of four)

Jesus People is unrated but contains some mild thematic material involving sex. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

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