Movie Review: Faith-based “Overcomer” never overcomes a bad title

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As I write this, there are half a dozen reviews of “Overcomer” posted on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, even fewer on Metacritic.

And I get it. Whatever you say about the films in terms of writing, directing, acting and just “quality,” people take a bad review of a faith-based film as an attack on their faith, an affront. Who needs the “You just don’t get it” or “I’ll pray for you” complaint mail?

I’ve always found the movies by Georgia’s preacher/filmmaker Kendrick brothers harmless tear-jerkers, politically-muted proselytizing which — considering the state of Southern Baptists these days — is in itself a blessing.

And the films have an audience, so I’ve tried to catch every one of their releases after missing their debut feature (“Flywheel”) — the sports drama “Facing the Giants,” “Fireproof,” “Courageous,” and “War Room.”

Approach them as genre features, take notes on the script, the performances, the caliber of actors they’re able to enlist. Listen for more sophisticated dialogue, look for more polished direction, search for signs they’re growing as filmmakers.

It’s the same tack I took, ages ago, with Cheech & Chong movies, with Chuck Norris or Tyler Perry’s careers. Like those other examples, these aren’t film school alumni, they’re two of the pastors at Albany, Georgia’s Sherwood Baptist Church. Are they learning their craft, moving beyond Kendrick Brothers and “Christian conservative” branding and realizing there’s more to a movie than messaging?

The films have never been less than competent. The stories have something of an arc, obstacles for the heroes/heroines to overcome. Scenes are pieced together with coherence and order, and music grows in importance with every release.

But “Overcomer” is, I think, their worst movie. And these guys once hired Kirk Cameron.

It’s about what one must “overcome” in life to achieve your goals, and what you overcome when you find your way to Jesus.

An orphaned 15 year-old Hannah (Aryn Wright-Thompson) who broods, keeps to herself and steals, is new to Brookshire Christian School in Franklin.

It’s a mill town that loses its mill, gutting the school’s enrollment and devastating Coach John Harrison’s (Alex Kendrick) top tier basketball team as parents leave town for jobs elsewhere.

Nowhere is it mentioned that the school’s tuition might be a luxury newly-unemployed folks cannot afford.

Coach Harrison has to double up, take on another sport. Cross country it is. Principal Brooks (Priscilla C. Shirer) must have seen “McFarland, U.S.A.” I dare say the Kendricks did.

Hannah loves to run, much to Coach’s chagrin.

“I had one girl show up,” he tells his wife (Shari Rigby). “And she’s got asthma.”

One more thing for Hannah to overcome.

Oh, and Coach stumbles into her blind, dying dad in the hospital while on a church visit to the sick. Hannah thinks her Dad (Cameron Arnett) is dead. That’s what the grandma who raised her always said. Would she like to see him, see that he’s Saved?

OK, that’s two more things to overcome.

This movie, more than earlier Kendrick pictures, seems to exist in a bubble where kids still say “Yes sir” and “No sir,” where marital conflicts are contrived and never as big a deal as the characters seem to think and are resolved with “We need to pray,” where sibling rivalry doesn’t exist.

“Ethan’s a good big brother.”

Insipid is the word for that, all of it.

The drama has a solid grounding in reality, but the jokes play like watered-down lemonade, from Coach/Dad who’s delusional about his physical condition to the flamboyant drama teacher who uses Coach and the cafeteria lady to judge dramatic presentations.

Showing how tolerant we are? Not a bad idea, just shoehorned in too obviously to work.

“Why would ANYbody do this?” is a running gag about running cross-country, 5K races that test lungs and your ability to hold your lunch, if you’re not in shape.

The acting is stiff and static — player after player standing stock-still, too-often blank-faced, delivering speeches, too many of which go on past their payoff.

The leads are so flat and bland that the odd moment of tears or fire from supporting players is almost rattling. Not powerful, exactly. Just rattling.

Scenes reach whatever climax they have in them, and go on and on.

The direction is pedestrian. The Kendricks’ scripts need brutal, blunt work-shopping and their footage needs heartless cutting.

There’s not a “name” in the cast. Every time I see Alex on screen, I think of the legal joke about a defendant who represents himself. If the parts were any good, wouldn’t somebody else want to play them? Sure, it saves money. But if you’re not exercising vanity, why wouldn’t you let pride take precedence? Wouldn’t you want a better actor saying your lines?

They must like their independence. Like Spike Lee in his years in the wilderness, they don’t want their writing, blocking, acting and directing criticized by people who have been around the movie block a few times.

It’s no more hateful than any other film in their canon. But there’s just nothing here.

Even as comfort food for true believers, “Overcomer” cannot overcome its myriad shortcomings.

1star6

MPAA Rating: PG for some thematic elements

Cast: Alex Kendrick, Aryn Wright-Thompson, Shari Rigby, Priscilla C. Shirer

Credits: Directed by Alex Kendrick, script by Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick. An Affirm Films release.

Running time: 1:59

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18 Responses to Movie Review: Faith-based “Overcomer” never overcomes a bad title

  1. Karen Denise Crandell says:

    I disagree totally and yes I live in Georgia proud of it an yes I am Babtist. Proud to be a Christian! Have waited for this movie for long time worth the wait. Christian movies are clean covered in Grace and Prayer. Movies made today are so bad we cant go to the movies would not want to waste money on them. Love the Kendrick brothers and heart and Soul put into thier movies. We Christian’s like our movies too! But I love Priscilla Shrirer too! I realize our Christianity is not popular in this day and time! But for us it is a Blessing and I am so thankful I am this movie has heart appeal and asks us who we are? Who are you? I can see if you look at it through eyes unlike ours it would not touch you and give your one star probably the coudnt go lower huh? God Blesd you. We loved the Movie! PS. Overcomer is about Overcoming we all have obstacles in life. I have many obstacles I deal with not easy. Who are you?

    • Dakota Foote says:

      Hopefully God helps you overcome your poor grammar. These religious movies are pandering propaganda that take advantage of delusions about an imaginary magic man in the sky. The people who watch them know nothing about the art of storytelling. This critic objectively stated why this is a bad film, and no amount of Jesus juice can change that.
      Religion is for people who can’t think for themselves and want easy answers. Most Christians only selfishly pretend to do good because they think it’ll get them into heaven. I know because I grew up with ignorant Christians. Go ahead and pray for me to make yourself feel better.

      • Joe says:

        Dakota Foot. Sounds like you’ve got all the answers. Please do fill in the rest of us non as brilliant as you. How does everything come from nothing? How is creation created without a creator? Please enlighten all intelligent one!

      • 1ejody says:

        “Religion is for people who can’t think for themselves and want easy answers.”
        You mean people like Einstein, Tolkien, George Washington Carver, Wernher von Braun, Alister McGrath (two doctorates from the University of Oxford, a DPhil in Molecular Biophysics and a Doctor of Divinity in Theology), and several thousand other morons who want easy answer I could list…

    • ksdunigan says:

      AND you responded just like he predicted Christians would. SMH.

  2. Melissa Ward says:

    Overcomer is a great movie for teenagers to understand that God can help you through any circumstance. It is a wonderful, uplifting, and powerful movie. Kendrick’s hit it out of the park again!

  3. Marge Rients says:

    The movie was wonderful, really got me thinking! Are you a born again Christian? Doesn’t sound like it the way you talk!

    • No. I grew up in the South and in the church. That’s irrelevant in terms of looking at the quality of the movie, though I suppose a predisposition for myopia would help in “enjoying” it.

  4. Kim says:

    I urge you to watch the movie in its entirety. Watch it with an open mind and open heart.
    You will see that a movie can be uplifting and encouraging, without having to show the perversions of these times, or the use of profanity.

  5. Francisco Lopez says:

    If approved, kindly post this edited response instead of the one originally submitted. I’d placed the quotation mark in the wrong spot:

    Hi Roger. Thank you for posting a refreshing and honest appraisal of Overcomer. A friend of mine recommended the movie on a Facebook post without having seen it, a detail that was brought to his attention, but in light of the Kendrick brother’s mediocre production caliber and your input, I’ll steer clear of their new release. I’m an imperfect follower of Jesus Christ that appreciates truth, and many souls are thirsting for the truth. The notion that a Christian can overcome any obstacle and enjoy “the best in life now” contradicts 2 Timothy 3:12 which states “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” Belonging to a Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, or any other congregation will not grant you access to heaven. In John 3:3 Jesus”s response to Nicodemus was “…Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” May God bless you and yours with his best is my prayer.

  6. Kealie says:

    Were we watching the same movie?? We loved it!! My husband and I went. I’m going to go again and take a group of friends with me. My daughter and her cross-country team went and loved it as well. They want to show it at their district potluck. If only Hollywood would produce more family friendly movies.

  7. Suzette says:

    Sadly, professional reviewers don’t have a clue as to the value of a faith based movie. The Kendrick brothers are improving with their movies. The acting is improving. This story is a great story of hope in the middle of a discouraging situation. It is well worth seeing.

  8. Dixie Ritchie Cramer says:

    I know next to nothing about what constitutes a well-made movie or a poorly-made one. But if what the reviewer says is an accurate assessment of this movie’s quality, then I guess we’re witnessing a true miracle in the ongoing success of the Kendrick brothers’ movies.

    • These are modest hits in the sense they cost no money and they reach their audience. A small audience by movie standards, big only by comparison with other faith-based films

  9. Heather Lee says:

    I would so much rather watch an inspirational Christian movie than the trash/porno/abrasive movies out from Hollyweird any day and twice on Sundays!!! The Kendrick brothers rock and their movies have meaning and purpose. For those filled with the love of Jesus, this movie spoke volumes. For those without it, there is a chance that his love can reach them if they see it, which is what we, as Christians, hope for. It’s so much more than worldly eyes and hearts understand. So much more!!!!

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