Bearing a flag of truce between generations and musical genres, “Preaching to the Choir” is an awkward, well-intentioned dramedy about hip-hop and gospel, the sacred and profane, the city and the country and the young and the old. With original music by ex-LaBelle member Nona Hendryx and appearances by a throng of familiar faces, pic may even attract some crossover biz along with its targeted urban auds.
Film follows two brothers, self-righteous Wesley (Darien Sills-Evans) and rebellious Teshawn (Billoah Greene), as the former becomes a Harlem preacher and the latter a world-renowned rap star. Nothing in the film’s opening chapters is totally implausible — nor is it particularly believable.Teshawn — known professionally as Zulu — has run afoul of a ruthless and violent record company executive, the rasping Bull Sharky (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who wants the master copies of Zulu’s new record returned ASAP. The threat of imminent death brings Teshawn to his brother in New York, where, natch, old resentments resurface.Driving the narrative is the prospect of a gospel competition, which will include Wesley’s church’s choir, a raggedy group — until Teshawn whips them into shape.
Despite the ungainly script and direction, the climactic performances — including one by young singer Anny Jules –absolve the movie of most of its sins. Pic’s real assets are the veteran performers — Novella Nelson, chiefly, as Aunt June — who complement their equally able younger cast members and get to stretch in ways unavailable in more conventional pics.
While the film looks good, sense of place is never very convincing. Over time, however, director Charles Randolph Wright and screenwriters Kevin Heffernan and Peter E. Lengyel do manage to create well-defined characters, whose flaws are as important as their gifts.