In what is probably the first-ever mashup of Charles Dickens and R&B, “A Beautiful Soul” stars gospel singer Deitrick Haddon as a bling-wielding, self-centered Scrooge whose wakeup call arrives via a bullet, and whose redemption involves a divine iPad (with an app for afterparties past, present and yet to come) by which he learns to change his ways. Although a natural for young, Christian-oriented auds, helmer Jeff Byrd’s meller is too undernourished and underpopulated to find much traction elsewhere, and strains to find a tone. Limited theatrical play will lead to a highly specialized afterlife.
It’s in a badly lit afterlife of his own that pop star Andre Stephens (Haddon) sees the error of his ways. At the top of his game, his music career and the Los Angeles food chain, Andre has abandoned God for mammon. Although he and his lifelong buddies Chris (Robert Ri’chard) and Terrance (Barry Floyd) met as young gospel singers, the decadent ‘Dre virtually has to be dragged by Chris to a local church, where the arrogant singer promptly tries to pick up the first comely woman he sees and disses both the pastor (Jeris Poindexter) and an aspiring young singer (Trevor Jackson) before beating a hasty retreat back to his penthouse.
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When Andre’s bodyguard, Vincent (Onyx Whitaker), asks him for a loan to pay his ailing wife’s medical bills, and Andre turns him down, Vincent moves on to Plan B: a robbery that leads to a shootout and leaves Andre teetering between this world and the next.
Working from a screenplay by Haddon and Allison Elizabeth Brown, Byrd (“King’s Ransom”) doesn’t maintain a pace brisk enough to keep viewers from asking logic questions, especially pertaining to the robbery. There’s also a distinct lack of authenticity to the pic’s musical performance sequences: After an aerial shot of Los Angeles’ Staples Center, the camera moves inside, where Andre is preparing to hit the stage before what sounds like four people, chanting “Dre! Dre!” Byrd strives to create an illusion of mass crowds and pop hysteria, but his efforts fall considerably short of their aims.
Similarly less-than-convincing is the character of Andre, who comes off as cartoonishly self-centered and distinctly unlikable. On the page or onscreen, Haddon is unable to make the guy complex enough that one knows he not only needs redemption but deserves it. “A Beautiful Soul” wears its Christian message on it sleeve, sometimes to a fault: The guardian angel (Vanessa Bell Calloway) who walks Andre through heaven and preps him for his return to earth is wearing a crucifix. Any viewers hoping for a nondenominational hereafter are going to be disappointed.
Tech credits are mixed; sound is particularly uneven. The slackness of the storytelling has the effect of subjecting the low-budget pic’s supernatural elements to charm-killing scrutiny.