It seems before Fireproof, members of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany Georgia were honing their film-making skills on smaller projects. One example is The Second Chance, in which they used their own church building as a set. Second Chance tells the tale of two churches, sister churches in fact, one of them a wealthy mega-church in the suburbs, the other a financially strapped church in the inner city, surrounded by prostitutes and drug dealers.
The inner city church, Second Chance Community Church, was once pastored by Jeremiah Jenkins (J. Don Ferguson) before he went on to bigger and better things in the suburbs. He left behind one of his early converts, Jake Sanders (Jeff Carr), a drug dealer turned pastor, to carry on. Jenkins is now grooming his son, Ethan (singer Michael W. Smith in his first acting job) to take his place at the mega church, The Rock, when he’s gone.
Jake addresses the congregation of The Rock one Sunday and, in disgust
over its lack of physical participation in inner city outreach, spurns its financial participation, saying “Keep your damn money!” (Yeah, that’s right, he said damn in church.) The Church Board blames Ethan for giving Jake the pulpit, and sends him to Second Chance to “observe and learn” from Jake. Thus worlds collide.
One reason Second Chance is such an interesting piece of film making is that, like Fireproof, you can tell they had a limited budget. What they do with it is quite impressive, though. From repeated confrontations on the same footbridge, each more intense than the last, to a shot of a condemned church building with a wrecking ball dangling in the foreground, director Steve Taylor communicates volumes without a single line of dialogue. Instead of the seamless camera cuts that we’re used to, there will often be a single shot for a whole scene, with the camera panning back and forth to different speakers or facing the back of one side of a conversation. It’s kind of fun to watch for a change. In one scene, Smith accompanies a ghetto choir on the piano. Taylor tried to get fancier for this scene, and so we see a lot of rapid panning and zooming. It doesn’t look terrible, but still serves to highlight the budget limitations more than conceal them.
The credits start rolling at about 90 minutes, which is really too bad. The movie has a lot of subplots and a number of them could have stood more development. There are a lot of scenes that one would have to already be familiar with church life to appreciate. That’s okay, though, because this film doesn’t really have a message for the unchurched (which isn’t to say that they wouldn’t find it interesting). It’s a story about Christians, by Christians for Christians. It’s greatest contribution is its exhortation to those in safe and comfortable neighborhoods to leave them and be among the broken and the poor. Anyone who lives in the suburbs could learn a great deal by watching this film. It is a film riddled with clichés, but clichés exist for a reason, and these bear repeating. In other words, this is what The Preacher’s Wife would have been like if it had been made by smarter people.
The film’s greatest downfall is probably its two-dimensional portrayal of Jake as not needing to learn anything or repent of anything. Jake should have been forced at some point to reexamine his ideas the same way Ethan
is. Instead Carr plays the same two rolls the whole way through, waffeling between pastor and big, scary black man, and delivering lines like “The Bible says I have to love you, when right now, I just want to beat the hell out of you.” (Yeah, he says hell, too.) This is a problem for two reasons: it burdens the story with yet another cliché, and, frankly, Carr just isn’t very convincing in the roll. Still, I can’t deny that there’s something very grin-worthy about seeing him grab a gang banger’s fist, twist his arm behind his back, and say “ … I’m gonna open up a can o’ the wrath a’ God, all over your sorry ass.” (Yeah, he says ass, too.) If you’ve got two hours and a few dollars, get this one from your local rental (or Christian book store) and check it out. You won’t be sorry.
(I should note that, while this film was made by Christians, it is not for little kids. It deals with some very intense subjects, and it deserves its PG-13 rating.)
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