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&#039Don Verdean&#039 Takes Shaky Aim At The Dark Side Of Faith

Sam Rockwell as Don Verdean and Jemaine Clement as Boaz in a scene from Don Verdean.

Sam Rockwell as Don Verdean and Jemaine Clement as Boaz in a scene from Don Verdean. Courtesy of Lionsgate hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Lionsgate

In the final couple of years, the so-named “faith-based” film sector has expanded by Miracle-Gro leaps and bounds. Smash hits like God’s Not Dead and War Room identified their audiences by not only explicitly referencing the Almighty, but also casting Him to intervene in the lives of ordinary Americans, whether by inspiring a correct-believer student to win a debate against his atheist professor or casting Satan out of an abusive marriage.

If you took 1 of these motion pictures, flipped it more than, doused it with skepticism and looked at it in the mirror, you’d wind up with Don Verdean, the story of a crooked archaeologist who fakes the discoveries of holy artifacts in order to bring people closer to God (but also for profit, as well, if he’s getting honest). The film is not very funny sufficient as an Indiana Jones parody, but it operates greater as a light, sporadically clever send-up of Biblical literalism and components of American megachurch culture. And coming from Napoleon Dynamite creators Jared and Jerusha Hess (Mormons who reside in Utah, exactly where the film is set), it has a quirky outsider viewpoint that keeps it from feeling like a cynical Hollywood hornet’s-nest poking.

As played with gnarly facial hair and a appear of constant panic by Sam Rockwell, Don Verdean is a charming bottom-feeder. He drives his RV among churches hawking books that recount dubiously successful archaeological digs (an opening VHS promotional video is worthy of Tim &amp Eric), and sales are so negative he sleeps in the RV, as well. But a gift from God arrives in the type of an Evangelical pastor (Danny McBride, in full meathead-drawl) who hires Don to bring him Biblical things from Israel to display in his church. Such a collection, he believes, will demonstrate that every thing in the Very good Book is accurate, thereby pulling his wavering flock back into the faith. “A holy land, appropriate here in the great ol’ U.S. of A,” enthuses the pastor’s lascivious wife (Leslie Bibb), who will later belt a passionate song about submitting to her husband.

So Don starts hauling in massive findings, one particular soon after the other, like he’s fishing for candy in the kids’ treasure chest at Trader Joe’s. First his sleazy Israeli associate Boaz (Jemaine Clement, right here sporting a thick accent and frozen countenance) hauls in a pillar of salt he believes to be Lot’s wife—never thoughts the … anatomical inconsistencies. Then, along with his lovestruck assistant (Amy Ryan), Don journeys to the Holy Land himself to unearth Goliath’s skull: a process that requires some light grave robbery and a Google search for “Israelis with gigantism.” A little bit of phony science-language goes a extended way in this church, it appears, and soon it is time to support a devout Chinese billionaire uncover “the Holy Grail of Biblical artifacts: the Holy Grail.”

It’s surprisingly biting, dark territory for the writer-director pair who brought the planet “Vote for Pedro” and the brightly clad luchadores of Nacho Libre—although the movie’s deadpan style and faux-amateurish rough edges are perfectly in line with the Hess filmography. Also like their past films, the humor is very hit-and-miss, both simply because it really is wielding a rather blunt satirical weapon and because the sheer number of people Don fools becomes hard to swallow. But when Don Verdean‘s barbs land, they work, regardless of whether McBride is launching into a Voltron-inspired theory about dinosaur fossils or Will Forte, as a reformed-Satanist-turned-rival-preacher, is condemning the evils of breakfast cereal.

There are times when the film feels imply-spirited, some thing that is tough to avoid when your comedic target is religion. As although to counteract the thought that these believers are all either snake-oil peddlers or dangerously gullible, the Hesses assert that Don himself isn’t a negative guy so a lot as a desperate 1. The true villain turns out to be Boaz, who in the latter half comes close to becoming a crooked Jewish stereotype — though he’s surrounded by significantly a lot more overt Evangelical stereotypes. But distancing your protagonist from his actions is a disingenuous move when you began with him exploiting, for private achieve, both religion and public misconceptions of his trade. If you are going to go right after one thing as hot-button as faith, at least have the courage of your convictions.

Arts &amp Life : NPR