NEW YORK (CNS) — The very real threats to religious freedom in contemporary society could serve as the theme for a valuable documentary or a thought-provoking drama.
What we get with “God’s Not Dead 2” (Pure Flix), however, is a flawed message movie undermined from the start by a fictional premise that feels thoroughly implausible.
In following up on his 2014 original, director Harold Cronk, along with returning screenwriters Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon, shifts the scene from the groves of secularist academe to the halls of an Anywhere, USA, public high school.
There, history teacher, and committed evangelical believer, Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart) is asked a question regarding the Christian antecedents of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s strategy of non-violence during the civil rights movement. (She has already covered the influence of Mahatma Gandhi on Rev. King.)
Grace responds by citing Jesus’ famous admonition, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” Whereupon all hell breaks loose.
Never mind that Grace has done nothing that could possibly be seen as proselytizing in the classroom; that she has invoked no specifically religious belief such as the divinity of Christ or his role as humankind’s saviour; that her answer is strictly factual and thoroughly within the appropriate confines of the discussion. Faster than you can say Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the administration is down on her like a pack of wolves — closely followed by the school board and the American Civil Liberties Union.
If only Grace would apologize for her lapse in judgment, all would be forgiven. But she remains steadfast. So it’s off to court, where she’ll be represented by untried but good-hearted lawyer Tom Endler (Jesse Metcalfe).
Cheering Grace on from the sidelines — and providing her with emotional and spiritual support — is her kindly grandfather, Walter (Pat Boone). Leading the charge against her is the American Civil Liberty Union’s serpentine lead attorney, Peter Kane (Ray Wise).
Kane oozes sweet reasonableness, yet he rests his case on the thoroughly irrational notion that Jesus never existed. The debate that follows showcases the interesting work of J. Warner Wallace, a veteran Los Angeles County cold-case detective who applied police investigative techniques to examining the evidence about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. But the fact that Kane is a straw man pursuing an unrealistic strategy compromises the impact of Wallace’s rebuttal.
Audiences may also be slightly unsettled by the fact that Kane’s backup counsel, who hovers around with little to say, looks like a thin Seth Rogen playing a young Henry Kissinger. His persona implicitly evokes a stereotype far better left alone.
Taken as a whole, this reaffirmation of belief, though appropriate for most moviegoers, suffers from an off-key tone, a pervasive sense of victimhood and sometimes painful sentimentality.
The film contains mature themes and an instance of harsh parental violence. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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NEW YORK (CNS) — The close-knit Portokalos family — loving, clingy, earthy and in your face at all the most inopportune moments — returns in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” (Universal).
Unfortunately, this follow-up lacks the zest of the 2002 romantic comedy that launched the formula “My Big Fat (fill in the blank)” into the American lexicon.
The moral structure is still there — these folks look after each other with admirable ferocity. And, as in the first film, not a lot really goes on.
Self-sacrificing Toula (Nia Vardalos, who also wrote the screenplay) is back working in her parents’ Greek restaurant in Chicago, the bad economy having shuttered her travel agency.
Her daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris), now a high school senior, finds their family a constant source of embarrassment. As Toula notes, “They don’t know the difference between closeness and suffocation.”
Toula and husband Ian (John Corbett) are having difficulties rediscovering marital intimacy. Paris wants to go to college in New York to gain some distance from the clan.
And then there’s paterfamilias Gus (Michael Constantine). While researching his genealogy online in an attempt to prove that he’s a descendant of Alexander the Great, Gus digs out his marriage license, only to find that the priest forgot to sign it.
Meaning — according to the logic of the script anyway — that he and spouse Maria (Lainie Kazan) have not been legally married all these years. So they must plan a wedding.
That’s pretty much it. The real problem, though, isn’t with the ambling plot. It’s the fact that Vardalos only manages the occasional adept gag, while director Kirk Jones can do little with the rest of the project.
As a result, the story comes down to a few pithy quotes interspersed with half-hearted physical comedy that has the taste of stale moussaka.
The film contains sexual references and light banter. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.
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NEW YORK (CNS) — “Meet the Blacks” (Freestyle) is a close encounter of the most unpleasant kind.
A sloppy assemblage of tasteless jokes, rampant profanity and lewd sexual behaviour does not a comedy make. Director Deon Taylor, who also wrote the screenplay with Nicole DeMasi, aims low and, not surprisingly, “Meet the Blacks” winds up in the gutter.
But what a comfortable gutter is it: Beverly Hills, California, where the eponymous African-American clan, formerly based in Chicago, relocates to an all-white gated community.
Patriarch Carl (Mike Epps) hopes for a better life for his family. Unbeknownst to them, he is also running away from a string of creditors, drug dealers and spurned lovers in the Windy City.
Then there’s the matter of the so-called “purge.” In a comic take on the horror franchise that kicked off with 2013’s “The Purge,” on one day of the year, for a single 12-hour period, any crime may be committed with impunity: burglary, arson, murder — you name it.
Carl is convinced that a wealthy place like Beverly Hills is purge-proof, even if his neighbours are not very welcoming.
For a while, the life of luxury suits Carl’s hot new Latina wife, Lorena (Zulay Henao), and his disrespectful kids, Allie (Bresha Webb) and Carl Jr. (Alex Henderson). His crazy cousin, Cronut (Lil Duval), just sprung from prison, provides “comic” relief in the form of lust for Lorena and pot-smoking.
But the day of licensed anarchy approaches, and the U.S. president, El Bama (George Lopez), appears on TV, warning his fellow Americans to take precautions. It’s not long before the Black family is under siege from gun-toting neighbours and Carl’s angry creditors, who include ex-boxer Mike Tyson in a clown mask.
“Meet the Blacks” descends from a comic mess into a gory one. Amid the movie’s own increasingly obvious desperation, a last-minute appeal by Lorena to the Virgin Mary registers as just one more shake of its molting tail feathers for this tainted turkey.
The film contains bloody violence, strong sexual content, including scenes of masturbation, drug use as well as pervasive profane, rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.
Copyright (c) 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops