Release Date:  February 17, 2006 (limited)
Rating:  PG-13 (some drug references)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  102 min.
Director:  Steve Taylor
Actors:  Michael W. Smith, jeff obafemi carr, J. Don Ferguson, Lisa Arrindell Anderson

"The Second Chance," from director Steve Taylor, effectively displays the tensions between different parts of the body of Christ:  African-American Christians and Caucasian Christians; suburban churches and inner city churches; and televised "mega-churches" and smaller, struggling congregations. What the film lacks in cinematic style - and it does suffer from a TV-film feeling and mentality - it makes up for in earnestness, although, at times, the film is a little too earnest for its own good.

Michael W. Smith plays Ethan Jenkins, associate pastor at The Rock and heir apparent of a suburban church headed by his father, Jeremiah (J. Don Ferguson), who also founded The Rock's sister congregation, the Second Chance Community Church.

The two congregations have drifted apart through the years. While the Rock has achieved notoriety through its televised Sunday services, Second Chance continues to quietly minister to the poor and downtrodden in its local community.

The Rock's board of directors bristles at Ethan's style, and sends him to observe and learn from Second Chance, but Ethan finds a chilly reception from Second Chance's Pastor Jake (jeff obafemi carr), who feels abandoned by Jeremiah and the mostly Caucasian congregation at the Rock. Their financial support of Second Chance's ministry is not appreciated by Jake, who, given the chance to encourage further giving from them, tells them instead to "keep [their] damn money."

The relationship between Jake and Ethan is slow to thaw. Ethan spends a few weeks learning about the challenges at Second Chance, but nothing bridges the gap between the congregation, until he - surprise! - takes his seat behind a piano and accompanies the church choir. (Smith also gets to sing in the film, but not usually as a soloist.)

Various subplots - including a troubled woman who finds solace from Jake's wife (Lisa Arrindell Anderson) and the other women of the congregation, and one young man's efforts to escape gang life - show the broader challenges of, and threats to, Second Chance.

The film isn't as interested in racial reconciliation, specifically, as it is in common understanding between economically struggling Christians and the well-meaning wealthy Christians who too easily convince themselves that they can relate to the plight of the poor. Money isn't the answer to the problems of the Second City congregation, as Ethan soon learns. Jake tells Ethan he wants a long-term, hands-on commitment, not just a "ghetto tourist" who "sticks around just long enough to say, ‘I've been there.'"

But Jake has issues of his own to deal with, and in this, the film treads too lightly. Jake's anger manifests in ugly ways. He gets into a physical altercation with a local gang member; refers to Ethan as a "son of a …" before his wife elbows him and cuts him off; refers to another character as a "sorry a--"; and says to another character, "All I want to do is beat the hell out of you." Condemnation of Jake's behavior is saved until late in the film, when Ethan accuses him of "arrogance" - but until that point, it's not clear that the filmmakers think Jake needs to change. "The Second Chance" is mainly about the opening of Ethan's eyes, not Jake's.

The hostilities and invective on display in "The Second Chance" set it apart from other films developed within, and marketed to the Christian subculture, but that's both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it shows Christians, warts and all, without demonizing them for their weakness and, at times, hypocrisy. But a curse in that the film's anger, particularly as it manifests in the character of a church pastor, is unpleasant to watch and hear. Nevertheless, there's a truth in the depiction, and the call to a sympathetic understanding of the different struggles within the larger church community override most of the bumps along the way.

AUDIENCE:  Young teens and up.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Members of Second Chance struggle with drug and alcohol abuse.
  • Language/Profanity:  Some profanity; racial epithets.
  • Sex/Nudity:  None. A pastor and his wife are shown lying in bed, watching TV, but nothing sexual occurs.
  • Violence/Crime:  Gang violence; a man is beaten; a bloodied shirt is shown; a gun is pointed at the two pastors.
  • Faith:  The two congregations are at odds over conflicting priorities, discussed, at times, in anger.