Director: Todd Graff. Starring: Dolly Parton, Queen Latifah. Rated: PG-13. Running time: 117 minutes.
Occasionally, Hollywood execs remember that there is a vast, underserved audience that lives somewhere nearer to an apple orchard than an Apple store, and then they deign to release a film with a tree, a picket fence and maybe a church picnic in it.
Someone also must have noticed that the markets for country, pop and gospel music overlapped somewhat, and decided to lump them all together, deep-fry them in corn oil and sprinkle a bit of powdered sugar on top.
The result is Joyful Noise, a campy, hokey, sunshiny conglomeration of down-home humor, gossip and folksy, "aw shucks" wisdom delivered by way of the trials and tribulations of a multiethnic small-town choir looking to shake off the doldrums and make it big. It plays a bit like Glee-Haw, with the members of the tiny jerkwater Pacashau Georgia Sacred Divinity Choir loving, squabbling and then coming together to try to win a big national competition.
They'd been getting along just fine under the leadership of beloved choirmaster Bernie, played ever so briefly by Kris Kristofferson, who gets lucky and drops dead before the opening credits finish. He's not around to see his flashy, plastic surgery-addicted widow, Gigi (Dolly Parton), clash with pious, bossy fussbudget Vi Rose (Queen Latifah). For a moment, it seems like these mismatched rivals might create comedic sparks, but they really only have one major battle, where Parton throws dinner rolls at Latifah, who threatens to yank off her voluminous golden wig in revenge.
Too much time and effort is drained away by a number of unengaging subplots, like Gigi's wayward grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan) romancing Vi's sulky daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer). Everyone in town thinks Randy is a bad seed, even though he sings like an angel, is clean-cut, a wiz with musical arraignments. He's also the only one who can break through to Olivia's autistic brother (Dexter Darden), whose quirky tic is wearing shades and obsessing over one-hit wonder songs, like "Walk Away Reneé" by the Left Banke. No, really.
Elsewhere, a black woman and an Asian man have an affair (ooh!), Vi's mad at her husband for joining the Army, and the evil choir from Detroit cheats by hiring ringers (which you may have guessed, since about a third of the group is made up of skinny white girls who look like Auto Show models).
When everybody isn't busy gossiping, brawling and having premarital sex, there is much lip service given to obeying God and lifting His name. Of course, the praise and worship music will only take you so far. When the chips are down, Joyful Noise calls on higher powers, like Sly Stone, Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson. Where it counts, the movie is as plastic and unmoving as sweet old Dolly's muppet-like face.