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dir Will Bakke
prd Alex Carroll
scr Michael B Allen, Will Bakke
with Alex Russell, Miles Fisher, Max Adler, Sinqua Walls, Johanna Braddy, Zachary Knighton, Christopher McDonald, Nick Offerman, Chester Rushing, Tracy Smith, Phillip Wolf, Rhett James
release US 26.Sep.14
Saving Africa? Fisher and Walls
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
An astute, knowing script and lively characters make this film much more than a cheap shot about the hypocrisy in America's mainstream religious subculture. The complex, twisty plot avoids easy answers or obvious lessons. It also highlights the problems without ever undermining true faith, making the film both provocative and important.
In Austin, charismatic student Sam (Russell) is stunned to learn that he won't be able to graduate and attend law school until he pays $9,000 in school fees. Then he gets a flash of inspiration from a church group raising funds for a mission trip to Hawaii. It should be easy to manipulate Christians into giving to provide wells in Africa, then siphon off the cash he needs. So with his frat brothers Pierce, Baker and Tyler (Fisher, Adler and Walls), Sam teams up with evangelistic event manager Ken (McDonald) to tour the country.
As the audiences are drawn in by their "cool Christian" image, the money starts rolling in, which of course muddles everyone's moral compass. Impressively, the actors maintain likeability even as they commit fraud, mainly because the film never descends into a simplistic pastiche. This is a thoughtful exploration of the dangers lurking in a religious movement that's also a mega-bucks corporation, and the script takes witty aim at the subculture, including Christian-targeted movies, nonsensical prayer language and repetitive worship songs all designed to whip the faithful into a vulnerable state.
Filmmaker Bakke keeps the pace quick and light, leaving the serious themes to gurgle provocatively in the background. Scenes are packed with witty interaction as relationships between characters evolve in a realistic way (although they perhaps never quite go far enough). And the cast is thoroughly engaging, with fine performances from the central actors, plus strong support from the likes of McDonald and Offerman in key smaller roles.
Despite the entertaining tone, this is a sharp-edged exploration of how organised religion can't help but become a money-making operation. And without proper accountability, it's hardly surprising that cash is so often misused. Even more essential is the film's exploration of the American church's emotion-based approach, which blends politics with religion in a frighteningly brainwashing style, leading people to part with their money and their principles. In other words, Christians need to see this film and be warned, not about false teachers, but about their own gullible piety.
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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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