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By Stina Chyn | February 10, 2009

Dave Johnson (Morris Chestnut), the main character in Bill Duke’s filmic interpretation of T.D. Jakes’s book Not Easily Broken, is approaching that point in his adult life where he wonders exactly what he’s done with it. According to one of his many voice-overs, his dreams of playing Major League baseball went the way of the floppy disk after suffering from a grave knee injury in his rookie season. His college sweetheart-turned-wife, Clarice (Taraji P. Henson), however, has had her A-game on as a real estate agent. When a car crash leaves the couple with no choice but to revert to traditional husband-and-wife roles, Dave’s frustrations with a life of unrequited ambition and an increased intolerance of sitting in the back seat of his own marriage spark a re-examination of his priorities and expectations.

Visual and verbal signs indicate that the would-be professional baseball player has taken up construction and remodeling as his back-up day job, but the film does not include actual scenes of him at work. Instead, Dave is seen coaching a little league team, hanging out with his buds Tree (Kevin Hart) and Brock (Eddie Cibrian), and reaching out to Darnell (Wood Harris), an estranged college friend who is still bitter about not getting a baseball scholarship. Clarice brings home the big bucks and Dave concentrates on the well-being of everyone else but his own wife.

If Mr. and Mrs. Johnson’s marital problems were only due to the battle-of-the-sexes and the non-existent quality time they spend with each other, they would probably continue to interact with each other as bickering roommates. The car accident, however, introduces two sources of stimuli: Clarice’s mother, Mary (Jenifer Lewis), and physical therapist, Julie (Maeve Quinlan). Mary’s opinions apparently matter more than Dave’s; and Julie and her teenaged son Bryson (Cannon Jay) have “naively” allowed him to be a surrogate father figure. Both maternal best intentions and allegedly platonic attention threaten to widen the gulf between the husband and wife.

“Not Easily Broken” pitches valuable lessons about dealing with insecurities, accepting the reality of gender-role reversals, and surviving grief. The film’s non-secular origins are also present, most noticeably in the meaning of the film’s title, which Dave first mentions in his opening voice-over and that Bishop Wilkes (Albert Hall) later explains to Clarice later: matrimony comes with hardships that can only be overcome if the husband and the wife get emotional support from Faith and Divinity, not from an outspoken mother (in-law). It’s debatable whether or not the sermon-like message is subtle or mild enough for viewers that prefer less of a Sunday school treatment. Coupled with decent acting but average cinematography and editing, “Not Easily Broken” hums more fittingly to the tune of a LifeTime television event.

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