Call it the "The Strange Case of Ja Rule's Christian Propaganda Movie."
With all the hammer-to-the-head subtlety of a Kirk Cameron film, I'm in Love With a Church Girl is wall-to-wall Jesus shilling, which, in and of itself, isn't that bizarre. There's a large, thriving market out there for movies based around the promotion of God's morals through conflicted characters who gradually see the light and turn all preacher man (or woman) right before the end credits roll. What makes director Steve Rice's I'm in Love With a Church Girl so fascinating and odd is its casting.
Yes, that's Jeffrey "Ja Rule" Atkins (as he's billed here) playing Miles Montego, the "biggest drug trafficker in Northern California," alongside former 3LW member and Rob Kardashian wifey Adrienne Bailon as Vanessa, a devout "woman of faith" who works in a faith-based product store, where, amongst other holy merchandise, CDs from popular Christian rapper T-Bone are sold. Written by Galley Molina, and "inspired by a true story," I'm in Love With a Church Girl follows these star-crossed lovers as they work through Miles's drug dealer lifestyle, her player-hating and God-fearing mother's skepticism, and dialogue like, "God don't want somebody like me in his church, OK?" And, "I feel like God took me all the way around the block just to get me next door."
Filmed in 2010, I'm in Love With a Church Girl collected dust—presumably in a confessional somewhere in California—for two years while Ja Rule served his 28-month prison bid for tax evasion. During that time, co-star Stephen Baldwin, who plays the take-no-prisoners DEA agent on Miles' trail, endlessly told his kids about the movie he'd made with that rapper guy, in between writing fan letters to Rush Limbaugh; fellow co-star Michael Madsen (cast as the other DEA agent), meanwhile, probably overloaded Quentin Tarantino's voicemail begging, unsuccessfully, for a role in Django Unchained.
One can picture 50 Cent someday viewing the film for shits and giggles and spitting out his Glaceau Vitamin Water over its silliness. One of Miles' criminal connects is a white Malibu's Most Wanted reject who tells Miles he's "just tryin' to make a dollar out of 15 cents," before ending their phone call with, "One love, baby." Compared to Miles' crew, though, he's Tony Montana. California's most infamous drug pusher rolls with, in no particular order, a chubby-faced goon who looks like a softer Jerry "Turtle" Ferrara, a pasty honky with a fro-hawk who's a dead ringer for the ShamWow! guy, and a broke ass Chino XL. A slow-motion shot of them working together toward the camera wants to be "gangsta" like Reservoir Dogs but makes Boo the Dog seem like The Chronic-era Calvin Broadus. If 50 Cent's ever bored enough to record "Back Down Pt. 2," I'm in Love With a Church Girl provides enough fodder for a 60-bar verse.
If 50 Cent's ever bored enough to record "Back Down Pt. 2," I'm in Love With a Church Girl provides enough fodder for a 60-bar verse.
None of that holds a sacramental candle, though, to the film's unquestionable highlight. Near the end, Miles is put through the emotional ringer, having recently lost his mother and, more recently, learned that Vanessa has been hospitalized following a car accident. Boiling with anger, Miles storms into a church, stands before a large glass window painting of Jesus Christ, and unleashes a long, vitriolic monologue. It's Ja Rule's Harvey Keitel moment, except that, unlike Keitel's explosive and powerful rant against Jesus in Bad Lieutenant (1992), Rule's is an exercise in overacting and brutally hokey dialogue.
Since very few people even know I'm in Love With a Church Girl exists, and those who'll read about it this weekend will most likely switch the channel when it's airing on BET next year, a transcription of Ja Rule's Bad Lieutenant moment is right here. Read it out loud in your best "Where would I be without my baaaby!" voice.
An actor prepares: You're Ja Rule, looking at a window-pane Jesus, madder than Ashanti looking at photos of Irv Gotti.
"Good, I'm glad you're here, because we've got some serious issues to talk about. First of all, you took my mother from me, and that just about killed me, but I kept my mouth shut and let that one slide. I've done some bad things to people for a lot less, but I've been trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. But I've been faithful. I've been going to church and reading your precious little book. I even drop stacks of hundreds every Sunday in that little velvet bag they pass around! I've changed. I'm a changed man—can't you see that? Oh, my bad. Of course you can. You see everything, right?"
"So what's the problem then? What do you want from me? I know I haven't made you proud. How can I with all this mess I've got goin' on? What happened? What happened to all those things I've been reading about: grace, forgiveness, mercy? Where was the mercy for my mother? And now you want to take Vanessa away from me? Nah, that ain't happening, big guy."
"Look, I'm a stand-up guy, man. If anybody needs to pay for their sins, then let it be me—please, leave everybody else out of it. Just take me! I'm ready for whatever you got coming. You want to send me to Hell? Book the flight! But please… Please, I'm begging you. Don't take Vanessa from me. Just tell me, whatever you want me to do. Tell me what you want me to do to spare her life. I didn't mean a word I just said. I'm sorry for yelling at you in your house."
Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)