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Originally published Friday, October 18, 2013 at 9:39 AM

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‘I’m in Love With a Church Girl’: undeserving of an ‘Amen!’

The faith-based “I’m in Love With a Church Girl,” starring rapper-turned actor Jeffrey “Ja Rule” Atkins and based on the life of its ex-convict screenwriter, suffers from the sins of a shrill titular character, rote acting, and constant and ham-handed music.

The Washington Post

Movie Review 1 stars

‘I’m in Love With a Church Girl,’ with Adrienne Bailon, Jeffrey “Ja Rule” Atkins, Stephen Baldwin and Vincent Pastore. Directed by Steve Race. 118 minutes. Rated PG for a scene of violence, some suggestive content and brief language. 118 minutes. Several theaters.

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The faith-based “I’m in Love With a Church Girl” raises many questions, not the least of which is how a PG-rated movie could star Jeffrey “Ja Rule” Atkins, who shot to fame in the early 2000s rapping about his fetish for, well, things that cannot be printed in a newspaper.

And yet here he is — just months after getting out of prison for attempted possession of a weapon and tax evasion — in a movie produced by Reverence Gospel Media. Atkins plays Miles, a reformed drug dealer who meets Vanessa (Adrienne Bailon), the movie title’s devout Christian. Although Miles carries a gun and still hangs out with drug dealers, he’s focused his impressive moneymaking skills on legal ventures.

Regardless, the feds are secretly on his tail, and one agent, played by Stephen Baldwin, is convinced Miles’ eight-bedroom mansion and Bentley-filled garage indicate felonious dealings.

That’s really just a subplot, though, and the majority of the story focuses on Miles and his new love. We’re apparently supposed to root for these two to make it, although Vanessa is outlandishly jealous and pushy. During the few moments she isn’t berating him about accompanying her to church on Sunday morning, the pair do find an easy rapport, although those moments are few and fleeting.

The story is based on the life of another ex-convict, screenwriter Galley Molina, who’s out to prove that religion can be cool and that just because you go to church doesn’t mean you can’t dress like a rapper and drive a “Lambo” (translation: Lamborghini). Molina has a bit role as a pastor, also named Galley, who drives such a sports car and sings to his congregation while wearing jeans and a flat-brimmed baseball cap. When Miles comments that Galley doesn’t look like a preacher, the screenwriter-turned-actor explains that style isn’t a sin.

Atkins is actually a fairly decent actor, but the supporting cast members sound like they’re reading their lines. Even usually impressive performers, such as Vincent Pastore (“The Sopranos”), have a stilted delivery. The acting isn’t nearly as distracting as the music, however, which is constant and ham-handed. For example, the first time Miles sees Vanessa, a symphony erupts.

There’s also a conflict in tone. Some actors appear to be starring in a farcical comedy, while Atkins and Bailon play it straight, especially when the story drifts into melodrama in the final act (during the predictable crisis of faith). The intentions for “I’m in Love With a Church Girl” may have been noble, but nearly every part of the delivery turns out to be flawed. While religion may have been Molina’s salvation, he could have employed a little subtlety when proselytizing about the power of church. Instead, his motives are glaringly transparent and, after two hours, exceedingly tiresome.

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