The Kendrick Brothers, those Southern Baptist preachers-turned-filmmakers, go Hollywood and take a step or two backward with “War Room,” their first film since abandoning the pulpit.
Because “What I REALLY wanna do is direct.”
I’d say they “sold out,” but to the best of my knowledge, there are no leaked Sony memos to them with “Do you think you could go a little easy on the whole ‘Jesus thing’ here?”
It’s just a clumsily written, flatly-acted sermon built on some of the same stereotypes that made Tyler Perry rich. There’s no heart, and very little humor to this tale of a marriage going wrong and the God-fearing cliché who hectors a troubled wife into sitting in her closet and praying the temptations away.
Elizabeth (Priscilla C. Shirer) is a successful Charlotte real estate agent, raising a daughter who’s deep into Double Dutch and sharing a McMansion with her star pharmacy rep husband Tony (T.C. Stallings).
But Tony has tuned out this marriage, and Elizabeth is upset. “It is hard to submit to a man like that,” she confesses to her Christian realtor colleagues. No kidding. She really says that.
Not to worry. Her new client, the elderly widow Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie) has the answer.
“God is in control,” she declares. This is after Miss Clara has impertinently grilled Liz on her church going habits, and made a joke out of her “lukewarm” commitment to Jesus by serving her lukewarm coffee.
Hey, that Charlotte real estate market is tough. You’ve got to submit to a lot of pushy, proselytizing nonsense to land a client.
Miss Clara preaches the need for a “War Room,” a place (a closet) where a woman can go develop a strategy for keeping Satan out of her house and her marriage, a place to pray.
“Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy” lives and marriages, she counsels. Be on your guard. And clean out your closet.
The long-widowed Clara is full of advice.
“Men don’t like it when womens’ always tryin’ to fix them!”
Sounds like a white screenwriter’s idea of how a skinny drug-free Madea would talk.
She fends off a knife-wielding mugger “In the name of Jesus!”
The actors cannot land the attempted laugh-lines that the Kendricks shove into the script. They can’t wrench any emotion out of this material, either. I’m leaving the child actors’ names out of this, because whatever Momma’s been spending on acting lessons hasn’t paid off.
What’s it say when you look back on Kirk Cameron (“Fireproof”) as the gold standard for acting in your Christian films?
The steady stream of Christian films making it into theaters has been a smart move by studios, serving an underserved audience. And there’s nothing wrong with these movies “preaching to the choir.” “Know your audience” is just cinematic common sense. What works for horror and sci-fi fanboys can work for the faithful.
The Kendricks can say they’ve merely exchanged ministries in diving whole-hog into movies. But as they do, they lose their amateur standing, and they invite comparison to everybody else making filmed entertainment. “War Room” throws into sharp relief the ways they don’t measure up, and captive audience of not, they’re not getting better at storytelling for the screen.
They’ve taken their homilies to Hollywood, But will the choir be impressed with “entertainment” this insipid, a sermon this lightweight?
Cast: Priscilla C. Shirer, Karen Abercrombie, T.C. Stallings
Credits: Directed by Alex Kendrick, script by Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick. Sony Tristar Affirm release.
Running time: 2:00