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Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir Vincent Masciale
scr Luke Barnett
prd Luke Barnett, Vincent Masciale, Tanner Thomason, Timothy Kerigan
with Luke Barnett, Tanner Thomason, Lance Reddick, Jason Alexander, David Koechner, Margaret Cho, Christoph Sanders, Carly Craig, Richard Riehle, Marlon Young, Danielle Nicolet, Lisa Schwartz
release US Jan.20 sbiff
SANTA BARBARA FILM FEST
Fast-paced and hilarious, this smartly written comedy is assembled like a freewheeling mock-documentary. It's a knowing, affectionate look at the point where micro-budget filmmaking meets the Christian movie genre. But its real strength is in the strongly developed characters, the connections between them and their specific journeys through the narrative. It's a hugely likeable and entertaining film, and it makes several resonant points too.
Childhood friends Luke and Tanner (Barnett and Thomason) share a Los Angeles suburban house. Struggling with cash, Luke gets an idea from his pastor father Mike (Reddick) to make the best Christian movie ever, because churches buy tickets and don't worry about quality. So they gather a team including Luke's crush Brandy (Craig) and Tanner's ex Tiffany (Nicolet), both of whom have a connection to the film industry, plus two barfly buddies (Riehl and Young). Needing funds to make their sci-fi action movie A Prayer in Space, they make a pitch to Pastor Mike's church.
The script is densely packed with gags, such as Tanner's seductive use of dystopia movies or Luke's obsession with pyramid scheme guru Nicky (Alexander). As a cynical producer (Cho) says, faith-based movies don't have to be bad, but they also don't have to be good. Luke and Tanner also learn that they need one key word in the title and a known star who's a Christian ("or at least a Republican"). So obviously, their now born again childhood hero, action star Butch Savage (Koechner), must play God.
Barnett and Thomason are a terrific odd couple, friends who know each other a little too well. Luke and Tanner believe they can make a movie because they've been watching them all their lives. Their bromance is the beating heart of the film, with the expected story structure and a lot of surprising asides. Plus some nice father-son angles with an on-point Reddick. And the plot widens out to include a range of superb side roles, including scene-stealing indie-movie cameos.
The filmmakers never take a cheap shot at religion, sympathising with the subculture while highlighting the dangers of blindly jumping on a bandwagon. There are dead-on pastiches of both green-screen film sets and a rock-concert worship service (I Hung a Cross is a classic). And witty sideroads astutely poke fun at obsessive American society. This gives the movie a much wider relevance without pushing the point. Which helps make the world premiere of A Prayer in Space both funny and sweet. As church and crew member Hoyt (Sanders) notes, "It's hard to make something bad when it's about praising God."
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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