- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 30, 2004

Oscar Micheaux, the pioneering black moviemaker from the first half of the 20th century, often tackled taboo subjects of his day: social stereotypes, interracial romance and, not least, what he deemed were the questionable actions of clergymen.

Lord knows what he’d think of “Woman Thou Art Loosed,” billed as a film adaptation of the best-selling self-help book of the same name by Bishop T.D. Jakes, the nationally renowned evangelist.

Mr. Jakes, a West Virginia-born pastor who presides over the Potter’s House, a 30,000-member megachurch in Dallas, first published his book in 1994. Since then, the tome — filled with various accounts of women who’ve overcome abuse, addiction and other life wounds — has spawned a cottage industry, spinning off several successive titles (including the “Woman Thou Art Loosed! Cookbook” and “Holy Bible, Woman Thou Art Loosed! Edition”), a CD (“Woman Thou Art Loosed! Recorded Live at the Superdome”) and a string of conferences.

With the release of the movie, however, the time has come to retire the franchise.

Taking a cue, no doubt, from the success of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” Mr. Jakes initially marketed his film to pastors, who in turn encouraged their congregations to turn out en masse. Unfortunately, as Mr. Jakes himself has noted, “Woman’s” budget was far smaller than “Passion’s.”

And it shows.

Helmed by TV and movie director Michael Schultz (“Cooley High,” “Felicity” and “Everwood”), “Woman” is told through a series of disjointed flashbacks that careen from the present to the past and back again. We meet Michelle Jordan (Kimberly Elise of “The Manchurian Candidate”) when she pulls out a gun and begins spewing bullets at a church revival hosted by (who else?) Mr. Jakes, starring as himself.

Since she’s aiming at the altar, we assume he’s the intended target — an assumption that’s quickly laid to rest when he pays her a visit on death row.

Someone has died, however, and we slowly learn who over the course of 94 minutes that seem an eternity.

Michelle commits the crime just three days after being released from prison (presumably for drug possession, although it’s never quite clear). Fresh from the Big House, she instantly hooks up with a former partner in crime, Nicole (Idalis de Leon, fresh from her turn as a gold-digging stripper on HBO’s “Six Feet Under”).

The two women immediately visit a beauty parlor to get dolled up for Mr. Jakes’ revival, beat up their former pimp/drug dealer (on the porch of the halfway house where they’re staying, no less) and obtain the handgun that leads to Michelle’s final deadly act.

Michelle’s troubles had begun, however, much earlier. Revealed through the flashbacks are a strained relationship with a self-centered, man-chasing mother (“Boston Public’s” Loretta Divine), and a horrific rape as a child by one of mom’s many boyfriends, the shiftless Reggie (Clifton Powell, who has a better role in the upcoming film “Ray”).

Back story thus established, “Woman” becomes a fairly predictable connect-the-dots affair permeated by stereotypical characters and topics from the cookie-cutter “gospel” musicals: hair weaves, hypocritical churchgoers, the effeminate male makeup artist and the gossipy beauty shop owner (Debbi Morgan of “Eve’s Bayou”).

Eventually, the solution to the mystery is revealed, but don’t waste your money at the movie theater for the answer.

Do, instead, what “Woman Thou Art Loosed” should have done to begin with — go directly to the video store when it arrives there in the next few weeks.

*

TITLE: “Woman Thou Art Loosed”

RATING: R (violence, sexual content and drug use)

CREDITS: Directed by Michael Schultz. Screenplay by Stan Foster, adapted from the book by T.D. Jakes. Cinematography by Reinhart “Rayteam” Peschk. Music by Todd Cochran. Produced by Reuben Cannon. Executive produced by Paul Games.

RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes

WEB SITE: www.WTALthemovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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