The comic Michael Jr. isn’t new to faith-based films. He was in “War Room.”
But stepping into the lead role, he’s plainly more comfortable with the funny stuff than playing troubled, converted and sincere in “Selfie Dad,” a limp if lightweight essay in “family” taking precedence over “ambition.”
Back in the day, Ben Marcus made the scene at all the comedy clubs. The residue of that 1990s life is still on the internet in the opening scenes of “Selfie Dad.”
Now, he’s a married man with a devout, Hispanic wife (Dahlia Waingort), two kids, two cars and a steady job. He’s a video editor in an LA post-production house, enduring the complaints of reality show host’s like drawling gardener Rosie of “Rosie’s Roses” (Chonda Pierce of “All Saints”).
A colleague there (Johnny Pacar) is finishing up seminary, ready to become a pastor. As Ben and his family are faithful churchgoers, Mickey passes on his copy of “Why We Need the Bible” to Ben.
Ben doesn’t look like he’s having a good time. Distracted, frustrated, he turns a deaf ear to wife Jesse’s pleas — “Help out around the house. Spend some time with your CHILDREN!”
Their oldest (Shelby Simmons) is in “Grease!” at school. But it’s the younger son (Jalon Christian) who tips Dad off to the riches to be had on the World Wide Web. Post videos, get views, collect subscribers on “Utoo” (cute). Become famous.
Ben decides to tape himself doing a few sure-fire jokes.
“Can I call a white duck a ‘quacker?’ Why is ‘abbreviation’ such a long word? My wife is of a different race. We have ‘mixed feelings.'”
Yeah. I know. Calling these “Dad jokes” is an insult to fatherhood.
It’s not until Ben stumbles through a home repair failure, which he tapes but which his kid edits and posts, that he catches on. DIY home repair accidents, not memorized jokes, works.
But as the numbers spike and “second chance” at success beckons, Ben is distracted at the office, more distracted at home, and tempted by show business and the cute women who work in it.
Writer-director Brad J. Silverman (“Grace Unplugged,” “No Greater Love”) didn’t come up with a challenging story — just a little “test”of faith, some bland reactions to that test.
And he sure as shooting didn’t find anything funny for Michael Jr. to say or play. You’d think a veteran comic like Michael Jr. would riff more funny stuff in that “funniest line on the set wins” way. But confusing “prescriptions” for “subscriptions,” telling his kid “I made a selfie” when in fact, he posted a video? Not amusing.
A traffic stop almost delivers a laughs. The drawling, griping diva “Rosie” that Christian comic Pierce plays tickles, more through her delivery than via any “funny” lines she has.
“Selfie Dad” may be topical, and doesn’t lean on the Christian “victimhood” crutch as hard as the worst films in this genre. Where it fails is in suspense, emotion and comedy.
There’s a “Have to you seen ‘War Room?” “I don’t really like Christian films” reference that lands with a thud.
There are comics who work clean, and comics who ply the Christian audience trade with amusing success. John Crist (On the nose name for a Christian comic.), Pierce and others find laughs in home schooling, Veggie Tales, Chic Fil A and preachers’ kids.
There’s no reason this concept shouldn’t work. As angry as some faith-based films are, I really wanted it to. When any regular churchgoer says “I really don’t like Christian films,” lifeless fare like “Selfie Dad” is what they’re complaining about.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and some suggestive material
Cast: Michael Jr., Dahlia Waingort, Chonda Pierce, Johnny Pacar, Shelby Simmons
Credits: Written and directed by Brad J. Silverman. A GVN release.
Running time: 1:37