Though its title and marketing frame "The Grace of Jake" as a faith-driven drama, this movie is the cinematic equivalent of someone who goes to church only on holidays. It earns points for not being overly pious, but there's little depth in its exploration of one man's spiritual evolution.
Real-life blues singer Jake La Botz stars as Jake Haynes, a musician and ex-con who arrives in the small town of Palestine, Ark., with the intention to murder one of its residents. After being forced to perform his songs at a local church, its pastor (Dorien Wilson) is convinced the new talent will bring life back to the dwindling congregation. Meanwhile, Jake draws the attention of the preacher's daughter (Jordin Sparks) as he circles closer to his target.
"The Grace of Jake" is the feature debut of music video director Chris Hicky, and he and cinematographer Blake McClure display a strong visual sense and an understanding of their Arkansas setting. The blue skies, green grass and golden fields of the small town pop vibrantly on screen, bringing life and beauty to a film that otherwise lacks both.
Hicky's script has good intentions with its (unearned) story of redemption, but underdeveloped characters and an unfocused plot ruin its attempts to resonate. The movie is also hurt by its outdated treatment of diversity, revealed in the homophobic handling of a gay character and cringe-inducing approach to race.
'The Grace of Jake'
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Playing: Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood