The Second Chance (2006): United States – directed by Steve Taylor
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some drug content, mature themes, and some mild language
It might be fairly obvious that The Second Chance is a Christian film. There’s no denying that, though the religious content isn’t dramatically overt. However, the film is also a not-so-bad drama, with some interesting characters. The story involves some rich white people who have a fancy church in the suburbs. Their pastor, Jeremiah Jenkins (J. Don Ferguson) has founded a church in the inner city, but is now lead pastor at a suburban mega-church. The new pastor of the inner city church is Jake Sanders (Jeff Obafemi Carr). Jake is black, grew up in the hood, and knows the streets. Ethan Jenkins (Michael W. Smith), Jeremiah’s son, is the associate pastor of the mega-church, and he’s being groomed to take over when his father is ready to retire.
Ethan gets into trouble with the board when he ad libs a few lines one Sunday morning, deviating from their strict TV script for the services. Ethan lets Jake say a few words about the donation the church is giving to the inner city church (called Second Chance), but this behavior crosses the line. Jake is a bit of a loose canon, and after begging the rich folks to give their time to help out his church he tells the suburbanites to “keep their damn money.” Ethan’s decision to give him the microphone convinces the board that he needs to spend some time away. They send him to work at the inner city church.
Here he discovers everything is not the same as he’s used to; life on the streets is quite a bit different. This is where the movie gets fairly enjoyable, as he slowly comes to realize it’s not about how much camera time he gets, but that there are real people suffering and he can help them. Jake, as the ex-pro basketball player, gives Ethan a hard time, calling him “Gucci” because of his loafers, and warning him about driving a Beamer in the hood.
Eventually, Jake starts to see how stubborn he’s been, and Ethan starts to see how much he doesn’t know. It’s this gradual change (and it is fairly gradual, otherwise the movie would have been crap) that makes the drama interesting. It is clear that these are two strong characters, both quite different, both convincing, and eventually they both start to change.
I have to confess that I was skeptical about the movie at first. A Christian film, made with not too much money ($1.2 million), with a famous singer in his first screen role. And with Steve Taylor, another famous Christian music producer, directing, there was no chance the film would be even halfway decent. And, while The Second Chance isn’t great, it is quite a bit better than I expected. The production values are solid; everything looks and sounds quite nice. The directing is standard most of the time, but on a few occasions Taylor decides to match the zooming and cutting to the music and action, whether it’s a tense scene or the choir practicing. This extra bit of stylishness isn’t particularly necessary, but it’s not as debilitating as it might have been. The acting is also quite good, especially compared to what I was expecting. Smith is fine, though a few lines sound a bit forced and/or cheesy.
One funny thing about the film has to do with the content. It is a Christian movie, rated PG-13 for “some drug references,” so they couldn’t have any strong language or sex. A little violence might be allowed, but anything stronger would ensure that the Christian community would shun the film. Because of this there is a little mild language, and none of it gratuitous. It’s just sort of funny, though, because at one point gangsters show up and the most they can say is an occasional “hell.” Toning down the content unnecessarily neuters the edgier aspects of the story.
It is clear what audiences the producers were hoping would enjoy the film. Christian audiences might be alternately inspired or chastised by the story, and it contains some good lessons for some mega-churches. It never really bangs the audience over the head with Jesus, but the action transpires against a definitely Christian backdrop. Because of that some secular audiences might be put off or annoyed. I don’t think there is anything that would be too offensive to non-Christians who aren’t really fond of mainstream Christianity, but I also doubt they would want to watch the film in the first place. As a film it is better-made than one might expect from an independent Christian feature, although it rarely excels in any aspect of the production or story.