A holy hot mess of the sacred and the inane, Joyful Noise, about a gospel choir in Pacashau, Ga., is Jesus for Gleeks. Less Bible-thumping than, say, a Tyler Perry project, writer-director Todd Graff's movie is still on an ecumenical outreach mission, its flatlining gags overshadowed by its focus on weightier subjects, like economic calamity and Asperger's syndrome.
Struggling Pacashau pins the little hope it has left on the Divinity Church's multiracial choir, once again in the semifinals for a national gospel competition, and now led by Vi Rose (Queen Latifah). Brooking no sass, especially from church benefactor G.G. (Dolly Parton), righteous Vi Rose works as a nurse to support her teenage kids — Olivia (Keke Palmer), and Walter (Dexter Darden), whose difficulty in social interactions manifests itself in spouting off his knowledge of one-hit wonders — while her husband is stationed on an Army base. Vi Rose insists the choir stick with traditional arrangements, a term broad enough to encompass Olivia's repurposing of Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" as an ode to Him.
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Latifah and Parton, two effortlessly charismatic performers on-screen, are pleasing enough matriarchs, doing their best when forced to deliver nonsensical mouthfuls as country wisdom. The climactic sing-off is gaudy maximalist megachurch entertainment, and there is now a special place in hell for those responsible for making Parton sing a few lines of Chris Brown's "Forever." —Melissa Anderson (Citywide)