2008, Movie, NR, 96 mins


A social problem picture wrapped in a mystery cloaked in a cautionary tale about abandoning God for the fleshly temptation, actor-turned-filmmaker Bill Duke's urban lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-pervy drama is so overwrought that it quickly crosses the line into unintentionally funny and never recovers.

Valerie Maas (Aunjanue Ellis) thinks she has it all, even if she had to back burner her career as a photographer when her beloved husband, psychiatrist Dutch Maas' (Raz Adori), got a lucrative offer to move his family from Atlanta to Philadelphia. So how did she wind up in a downtown police station, cuffed and defiantly declaring, "I'm a Christian, not a murderer." As hardnosed Detective Hicks (Lou Gossett, Jr.) and ambitious ADA Simmons (Clifton Davis) press for a confession, Valerie explains how everything went terribly wrong from the moment Dutch allowed old girlfriend Monica (Paula Jai Parker) to recruit him for a hospital staff job. Monica is unhappily married to wealthy socialite Kevin (Roger Guenveur Smith) and hangs out with hip-hop celebrity Ryan Chambers (Leon); Dutch went to college with all of them and is instantly drawn back into their high-living social circle. Roger helps Dutch buy a fabulous mansion, Monica tries to rekindle their old romance before melting down into a prescription-drug-abusing, gun-toting psycho and Ryan makes persistent advances to Valerie, who seeks solace in the church and the straight-talking advice of her old friend Zahara (Vivica A. Fox). The revelation that Dutch is on the down low comes relatively early and is telegraphed from the first moment Kevin swishes into frame, but there are plenty of subsequent high-decibel revelations in the wings, including the identity of the murder victim, the sad story of mysterious Charlotte (Mya Harrison), a member of Mercy Baptist Church's women's support group, how Valerie's fingerprints got on the murder weapon and what it means when a stranger offers to blow dust out of another man's eye in a public toilet.

The film's combination of histrionic earnestness and clueless finger wagging verges on camp, and the film's mood swings are dizzying: Poor Valerie's fateful trip to room 3118 of the no-tell hotel where she discovers the awful truth is couched in pure horror movie terms, the sassy church-lady patter (chaired by Patti LaBelle) is the stuff of low comedy and Valerie's descent into alcoholic hysteria would have been excessive in the golden age of melodrama. It's not dull, but the good intentions get lost in the nuttiness. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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