The spiritually infused melodrama "Not Easily Broken," adapted from a novel by megachurch leader Bishop T.D. Jakes, falls prey to many of the usual shortcomings of movies that secretly want to be sermons. Like Jakes's previous vehicle, "Woman, Thou Art Loosed," this saga of family dysfunction and eventual redemption suffers from its share of starchy contrivance and didacticism.
But, also like the earlier film, "Not Easily Broken" exerts an unmistakable appeal, thanks to an absorbing story and fine performances from Morris Chestnut and Taraji P. Henson. Between her portrayal of a brittle, conflicted wife in this outing and her scene-stealing turn as a compassionate adoptive mother in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," Henson is proving yet again this season that she alone is a terrific reason to keep going to the movies.
Chestnut and Henson play Dave and Clarice, whose marriage began with high hopes of her becoming a real estate mogul and his becoming a professional baseball player. Jump-cut to real life, in which Clarice's real estate career has indeed taken off, but Dave's dreams have been dashed by an injury. He's working construction, but she's the breadwinner in sustaining a lifestyle that is way beyond their means. "Not Easily Broken" was made before the current credit meltdown, adding a sense of eerie prescience to its portrait of heedless middle-class materialism.
Their marriage already strained, Dave and Clarice drift apart until a crisis snaps them to attention. But even more tragedies are in store for the couple, who must also contend with constant withering commentary from Clarice's intrusive mother (played by turns to comic and monstrous effect by the great Jenifer Lewis). Dave increasingly finds solace in the company of his bros, including the hyper, super-sensitive Tree, played by a reliably manic Kevin Hart.
-- Ann Hornaday (Jan. 9, 2009)
Contains sexual references and thematic elements.