[REVIEW] ‘Faith Ba$ed’ or a Laugh and a Prayer?

In many ways the faith-based film genre invites itself for easy satire. Whenever a film puts itself out there as being more than entertainment, but a ministry tool it will be ripe with hypocrisy and ridiculousness. There’s also something so sincere and cheap about them which make it hard to not poke fun at. Filmmaker Vincent Masciale has taken on this fertile ground for satire in his new comedy Faith Ba$ed and the results are a mixed bag but just funny enough to recommend.

faithbasedmovie

In Faith Ba$ed the film’s writer Luke Barnett plays a dumb but optimistic man who idolizes a multi-level marketer tycoon named Nicky Steele (played by Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander). Barnett dreams of making easy money and living the good life. To make it big he develops a scheme with his BFF Tanner (Tanner Thomason) that they are going to make the world’s greatest Christian film.

Both Masciale and Barnett are regulars on the satirical internet show Funny or Die and you can see some of that influence in Faith Ba$ed. Evidently even just the trailers have gotten some of the conservative media upset calling the film ‘blaspheme’, which should feed right into their advertising. In truth, the script is pretty tame when it comes to their criticisms of religion. Most of the good jokes are similar to any type of misbegotten artistic project like we see in The Disaster Artist or The Producers.

There’s actually a lot in Faith Ba$ed that feels borrowed from other films. For example, Luke has an all Black family, which feels right out of Steve Martin’s The Jerk. Other gags (and the over-all vibe) has strong Napoleon Dynamite or Dumb and Dumber vibes. And their dopey optimism feels right out of the early Will Farrell comedies such as Talladega Nights.

FaithBased

The derivative nature, however, wasn’t much of a downside for me because I was consistently laughing. The script in Faith Ba$ed is funny especially when it is focusing on the movie. When it’s filming, financing and casting the movie it is pretty hilarious. When it goes off on tangents it works less. For example, when Luke ends up at Nicky Steele’s house to clean his pool Alexander’s over-the-top sales pitches fall flat.

I was also left wondering who the target audience for Faith Ba$ed is? It’s too strong an R rating for most religious viewers to enjoy and will the R-rated crowd be aware of the tropes of the genre to laugh? As a conservative critic I’ve seen lots of faith-based films, so I am the perfect person for this film, but I think it might struggle to find a general audience. It might have been smarter to follow the Napoleon Dynamite model and make it something the skewered audience could more easily embrace while laughing at themselves.

Actor David Koechner in the film “Faith Based”. Courtesy photo

Nevertheless, I always judge a comedy by how much did it make me laugh and in this case it was quite a bit. Like I said, whenever they are making the film A Prayer in Space it’s quite funny. On that basis alone I have to recommend Faith Ba$ed. The script is solid and the chemistry between Barnett and Thompson works. If you get a chance to see it let me know what you think!

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

smile worthy

Advertisements

Rankin/Bass 3: The First Christmas Snow

first christmas9The next entry I’m looking at in my Rankin/Bass month is the 22 minute program The First Christmas: The First Christmas Snow.  The rather ungainly title refers to a nativity play put on but really the The First Christmas Snow is more the plot of the special.

first christmas3The First Christmas Snow unfortunately is one of the weaker entries I’ve seen but that’s not to say it doesn’t have some positive elements.  It’s just very syrupy and preachy.  More along the lines of something you’d watch as a kid in Sunday School to teach a principle than a real piece of cinema.

It tells the tale of a little blind boy named Lucas who is lost in a storm watching over his sheep and some nuns including Sister Theresa take him in and care for him.  Theresa is voiced by Angela Lansbury and I could listen to her all day.  Basically little Lucas gets to know the nuns and starts to feel at home with his sheep at the monastery.

first christmas7But mean old Father Thomas (Cyril Ritchard) doesn’t think it is the right place for a little boy and insists he be taken to the orphanage.  But Lucas and his friend Louisa pray for a miracle and they get what they ask for and more.  Lucas is also trying to thwart off pranksters who lose his sheep and also trying to find the perfect gift for Sister Theresa.

first christmas2there’s a Christmas pageant where Lucas and Louisa are our angels (did any of you doubt that would be the case?)

first christmas6The thing that makes this bit watchable and sweet in its own way is the songs.  Angela Lansbury sounds completely lovely singing White Christmas, Christmas Snow is Magic and Save a Little Christmas.

first christmas8The stop motion is fine but not the best I’ve seen from Rankin/Bass and it’s just so syrupy it is hard to recommend- and that’s coming from an adamant apologist for many Christian films.

If you need to have a sub for Sunday School and want to teach about faith and miracles it would be a fine choice but I can still think of better. Honestly any of the veggietales shorts would be better with a similar message.

first christmas5So this will definitely be near the bottom of my Rankin/Bass rankings if I do one but luckily it is only 22 minutes and I can stand just about anything for that long.

Woodlawn Review

woodlawn3Reviewing the new Christian film Woodlawn is tough.  I was thoroughly entertained by it but it definitely has problems.  It is also a marked improvement over many other Christian films such as the recent hit War Room (which I saw some value in).  I went back and forth on what grade to give the film (how much to weigh the flaws vs strengths and my overall entertainment…).  Finally, I decided I’m just going to present the strengths and weaknesses and you can decide if it sounds like something you’d enjoy. woodlawn2

Woodlawn is directed by the Erwin Brothers who had previously done October Baby (haven’t seen) and Mom’s Night Out, which I actually thought was funny despite the terrible reviews.  The overall production values of Woodlawn is a large step in the right direction for Christian films.  The football scenes in particular I thought were really well shot and staged.  The acting was also a step up across the board.  It isn’t nearly as compelling as Freetown from earlier this year but it is a solid effort.

woodlawn5In the film we get the story of Tony Nathan played by Caleb Castille who was one of first African American NFL players to come out of Birmingham Alabama and be a big name.  It chronicles his junior and senior year at Woodlawn High School just after forced integration in both the football team and school.  The team is led by Coach Gerelds played by Nic Bishop, who is a practical, sensible nice guy.

woodlawn8

When racial tensions erupt at the school Coach Gerelds lets a sports chaplain named Hank played by Sean Astin (that’s right Rudy in a football movie!) encourage the kids.  He delivers a sermon about how the love of Jesus can overcome all the hate they are seeing and help them play as a team.  The team is moved by his words and they convert.  A little later on Coach Gerelds also has a conversion and decides to be baptized.

woodlawnThey end up battling for 2 seasons becoming better and Tony becoming more of a star player until even Sports Illustrated is profiling him.  It all culminates in a huge game that has to be in a giant stadium with their rivals from another high school.

Like I said, overall I was entertained by Woodlawn.  I thought the acting was pretty good with Bishop and Castille being the standouts.  I thought it looked good and had an inspirational story with a more toned down Christian dogma than some other Christian films.  I don’t think it is a movie that non-Christians will enjoy but I think it is less objectionable than other entries if that makes sense.

woodlawn4That said, there are problems.  It is one of those films that should have been 30 minutes shorter and yet certain subplots like a relationship between Tony and his girlfriend Johnnie.  There were also characters and plot points brought up that we never hear from again such as a more militant black student at the high school who tries to intimidate Tony and yet we don’t hear from him again. Woodlawn has a ‘villain of the week’ problem where I felt like every 10 minutes a new character was being presented as the villain, then they’d convert and we’d get a new one.    There is also a separation of church and state subplot that I felt was underdeveloped.

The music was also way over the top.  For example, at the beginning of the film Tony and his Dad are driving and by the music you would think it was the climax of the film.  When that happens you don’t really have anywhere to go with it making the climatic music in the actual climax underwhelming.

Certain character transformations I also didn’t buy like when Coach Gerelds converts seemingly out of nowhere and when the entire rival team also converts including their coach who had been previously presented as an antagonist.

woodlanw6But all that said I was entertained by Woodlawn.  If Christian audiences want quality films they should support this film.  It really is so much better than War Room that I’m a little sad to see it not doing as well although certainly respectable audience turnout. This is a movie not an inspirational Sunday School lesson.  Both have value for me but I would much rather watch films like Woodlawn and I hope the Christian film community continues to up their game.

So what do you think of Woodlawn?  Does it sound like something you’d like?   If so, go see it and let me know what you think.

Here is my youtube review.  Would love if you gave it a watch and thumbs up!