"Don't you bring all that Mariah-Christina mess up in here," choir master Vi Rose Hill tells a warbly young gospel singer in "Joyful Noise," slamming the door on any "American Idol" nonsense. "I don't want to hear you. I want to hear God through you."
Vi Rose, played by the irresistible Queen Latifah, had me from hello with that line. I was dreading "Joyful Noise," a musical about a gospel group competition, which seemed to promise a parade of syrupy R&B numbers in the "Idol" mold. There's plenty of syrup here, but not in the music, which is absolutely electrifying. Whenever the characters open their mouths to sing, "Joyful Noise" rocks and swings with spirit to spare.
Everyone from Sly Stone to T-Pain gets gospelized here, but the pop stuff is nicely balanced by the presence of Dolly Parton, in her first major movie role in 20 years. She plays G.G. Sparrow, the scrappy matriarch of Pacashau, Ga., and although her cosmetic work is so noticeable that the script makes jokes about it, Parton remains, at 65, a brave comedian (she wrestles Latifah in the middle of a crowded diner) and a prolific singer-songwriter. She performs a new tune she wrote ("From Here to the Moon and Back") alongside Kris Kristofferson, in a small role as her husband.
The downside: You'll sit through a lot of teenage-love stuff (Keke Palmer and Jeremy Jordan play canoodling choristers), contrived family drama (an absent military father, played by Jesse L. Martin) and humor so dopey that writer-director Todd Graff ("Bandslam") seems to be lampooning his own film. But whenever the cast breaks out those satin gowns (or theatrically rips them off), the movie powers forward like a freight train. Watch also for two astounding performances from real-life gospel star Kirk Franklin and a young stunner named Ivan Kelley Jr. Consider me a convert.
PLOT An underdog gospel group enters a national competition. RATING PG-13 (mild language and sexual humor)
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE Lots of sappy drama and teen-love stuff, but the electrifying musical numbers will make you a convert.