That “God” is listed as executive producer in the credits of I’m in Love with a Church Girl, the new Christian-themed rom-com starring Jeff “Ja Rule” Atkins, Stephen Baldwin, Michael Madsen, and the ex-lead singer of DC Talk, is not only a funny talking point, and half my reason for seeing it in the first place, it actually speaks to an entire philosophy, where capitalism and religion are wrapped up with each other so intimately that it’d be considered a sin if they weren’t married (preferably presided over by the hip pastor of a mega-church). Ja Rule plays an ex-drug dealer (“Miles Montego”) who drives a Bentley. The pastor at his love interest’s church pulls up to the first service in a white Lamborghini. “It’s like a sold out show!” Ja observes.
Ja lives in an eight bedroom house by himself, and even his churchy new girlfriend who lives with her parents drives a brand new silver Sebring convertible, which is not only lovingly depicted, but directly commented on by the characters. Everything in this movie feels like an infomercial. She affords this ride ostensibly by working in a Christian-themed mall store, a sort of Hot Topic for nü-Christians, where the black light posters all quote Psalms and the bongs are filled with holy water (I assume). “I guess Christians are a pretty big market,” Ja observes, as if appealing directly to a future investor. “They sure are!” Vanessa says, handing Ja a big stack of Christian rap CDs and practically winking at the camera.
Or so hope the producers of I’m in Love with a Church Girl, which features bundles of hundreds as prominently as crucifixes. I went in expecting to see a silly movie, and came out having experienced a strange glimpse into a curious cultural phenomenon, a new kind of Christianity that advertises itself with McMansions that God built. For a religion started by a martyred egalitarian hippie who hung out with lepers and prostitutes and was executed by The Man, its supposed adherents sure seem obsessed with Earthly wealth. It’s a bad movie, but a fascinating watch.
The film opens with drug lord Ja Rule sitting around a table of cheesy, ethnically-diverse henchmen, one of whom is a 40-year-old white guy who tries to look street by gelling his blond hair into a faux-hawk (see above image, second from right). They play dominos and exchange cheesy greetings, and hand Miles Montego bundles of bills that he puts in a briefcase. “To money, baby!” they toast, which is obviously something that people do.
Miles drives off in his black Bentley, arriving at his sweet mother’s house. “Just putting some paperwork in the safe, ma” he tells her. Ha, “paperwork.” At which point she tells Miles, in the first of many, many hilarious expository dialog sequences, about her twin dreams in life: to go to a Sandals resort, and to get Miles to go to church with her again. Godliness is next to all-inclusive resorts in the world of Church Girl, where acquiring a time-share is as important as eschewing pre-marital sex. Miles spurns her church invite, telling her the only thing he ever liked about it as a kid was the buffet afterwards. He kisses her goodbye, saying “Tell pops I’ll holla at him later.”
“But Miles,” she cries after him as he’s walking out the door, “what’s ‘holla?'”
Next, ominous music and a chyron reading “DEA HEADQUARTERS” take us inside a big building where evil (I guess?) cops played by Stephen Baldwin and Michael Madsen lay out their case against Miles. Their captain, played by Karate Kid II villain Martin Kove, listens quietly, wearing a big black trench coat and sporting a pencil-thin mustachio like Snidely Whiplash.