Maybe it’s the old Alaska radio hand in me, but if John “Chris in the Morning” Corbett took over as preacher at a local church, I’d be in the front pew. “Northern Exposure” lingers lightly on one’s existential soul.
And maybe I’m not the right guy to point this out, but “All Saints,” which parks Pastor Corbett in a dying Tennessee church in need of a minor miracle, is the kind of faith-based film that Hollywood and the “God’s Not Dead” crowd have forgotten how to make.
It’s amusing and uplifting, self-help oriented and not self-serious. It goes easy on the supernaturalist literalism that fundamentalists have locked onto as a political line-in-the-sand. And Corbett, the zen master of Cicely, Alaska’s KBHR (K-Bear), makes a most engaging center to this story of immigrants, tolerance and God working in mysterious ways.
Salesman-turned-preacher Michael Spurlock’s first assignment out of seminary is All Saints, a pretty little brick church in Smyrna, Tennessee. The congregation has mostly died out, and the Episcopal Church’s books-balancing bishops want to close it and sell it off. Michael is to just be a weeks-long caretaker, helping the dozen or so congregants left cope with losing the church they grew up in.
“Have you tried the mega-church down the road?”
“You’re not here to do CPR,” his wife (Cara Buono) reminds him. But when a dozen Burmese refugees — survivors of a civil war, and Anglicans (sister church to Episcopalians) to boot — show up, needing help and a place to worship, what’s a man of the cloth to do?
It doesn’t matter that “The bishop (Gregory Allan Williams) is going to hang me from the steeple.” Spurlock has to help. Some of the older members don’t take to foreigners. One (Barry Corbin, Corbett’s “Northern Exposure” boss), a just-retired farmer, doesn’t even want to bother learning the hired-gun preacher’s name.
“It don’t matter. We ain’t gon’know each other that long.”
But the pastor hurls himself at the Karen (Burmese) community’s problems, hunting for solutions, stirring folks up, creating a stink among the local chamber of commerce, whom he asks for help.
“How can you sit there chewing $30 streaks when we’ve got people starving?”
That’s as close to edgy as this dramedy — based on a true story — gets. The script preaches this can-do Christian attitude that disarms even the radioactive immigration debate, even the xenophobia of small town America.
No, the obstacles here aren’t rural Red State racism, but more Biblical in nature. Spurlock and the leader of the Karen (Nelson Lee, nicely unflappable) come up with a scheme to use the church’s cleared land as a farm, raising crops to cover the mortgage.
And that’s when every calamity known to nature descends on Smyrna like a plague of you-know-what.
Corbett has rather cunningly avoided major stardom, despite being in two hit series (HBO’s “Sex and the City” was the other) and the blockbuster “Big Fat Greek Wedding” movies. This is the most comfortable he’s looked on the screen since “Northern Exposure,” confident in his soft-sold sermons and quoting Biblical verses that make his case, amusingly shocked when he gets what he sees as “a message from God,” amused at his journalist wife’s “signs and miracles” jokes, not-quite-amused at every fresh agricultural challenge that comes his way.
“That’s NEXT week’s problem.”
Director Steve Gomer and screenwriter Steve Armour keep it corny, avoiding conflicts that sort of leap out as potential brawls,. It’s filmed comfort food for the faithful, and it works. And the third act twists (following the facts of the true story that inspired it) make it a lot less predictable than you expect.
The genre picture it most reminds me of is from way back — “Angel in My Pocket” — an Andy Griffith comedy about a preacher trying to do right, do good and heal a town.
Somebody ought to remake that instead of finding new ways to argue “God’s Not Dead.” And if they do, “All Saints” has just the preacher who could take it on.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements
Cast: John Corbett, Cara Buono, Nelson Lee, Barry Corbin, Gregory Allan Williams, David Keith
Credits: Directed by Steve Gomer, script by Steve Armour. A Sony/Affirm release.
Running Time: 1:48