Black Nativity

This wholesome musical is supposedly based on the famous Christmas play by Langston Hughes, which retold the Nativity story with gospel tunes and a Moorish setting. But aside from a brief, dazzling fantasy sequence, with Mary J. Blige belting it out as she hovers over the action in a white wig and angel wings, most of the story has been cooked up by writer-director Kasi Lemmons and functions at the level of a devotional soaper. (One of the producers is T.D. Jakes, the megachurch preacher and best-selling author.) A black teenager at risk (Jacob Latimore) is shipped off to visit his deeply religious grandparents (Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett, the only reasons to see this) and discovers why they’re estranged from his mother (Jennifer Hudson, who contributes a few of her showboating vocal performances). Lemmons, who made the captivating Eve’s Bayou (1997), has since become a poster child for talented black women who can’t get anywhere in Hollywood; I’m glad to see her working, but this tired product won’t do anything for her reputation.