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March 2016

The Bridge, Part 1 [2015] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Following a tragic personal loss, Charlie and Donna Barton are driven to pursue their dream: owning and operating a bed and breakfast.  They lease a beautiful property and begin renovating it and open it for business, calling it The Bridge.  They seek to make personal connections with their customers through hospitality and real books.  The Bartons are able to see many personal stories unfold, including the developing love between Molly Callens and Ryan Kelly.  Though Molly and Ryan are from very different worlds, they find common ground in making future goals and in discovering their true purposes in life.  As they grow closer together, little do they know that their relationship is about to be tested to its fullest.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Hallmark is usually known for their high production quality, but corners were obviously cut in The Bridge, Part 1.  For starters, there is far too much soft lens camera used, like they are trying to cover up things.  This only lends to the overall plastic feel of the film.  However, there is some good camera work that mostly saves the production from being horrible.  The sets are severely limited, only showing The Bridge over and over again, a couple of house and outside scenes, and that old truck.  The editing is very confusing, dropping viewers in the middle of circumstances with no explanation.  The 90 minutes of runtime are very poorly utilized.  The Bridge also makes use of Hallmark’s most annoyingly loud soundtrack.  In short, this film was obviously thrown together just for the sake of making it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The Bridge is not up to par with a typical Karen Kingsbury plot, and it can be understood why, since the movie departs from the original book concepts.  In this forced two-part movie, there is far too much repetition.  With 90 minutes to work with, the characters should be very deep and believable.  They are not.  Rather than being authentic, they are swept along by the plot without any control over their circumstances.  They make unexplained decisions, such as poor communication at convenient times, and are affected by coincidences just to extend the plot.  Besides this, the characters have a strange obsession with The Bridge and the Bartons have an unexplained perceptiveness.  The Christian message is watered down and replaced with trite Christmas superstitions and a crusade against ‘downloads’.  The only consolation in Part 1 is that there is a small amount of potential in the plot concept, yet it is squandered.  The end makes no sense and is anti-climactic, thus making this entire movie a waste of time.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Hallmark has coached some infamous casts before, but this collection takes the cake.  Filled with overly syrupy happiness, the actors and actresses seem like they are snorting helium.  With constant overdone smiling, they robotically deliver their lines with no emotion.  This is not to mention the very amateurish makeup jobs.  There is really nothing good to say here.

Conclusion

We maintain that Hallmark contacted popular Christian author Karen Kingsbury and instructed her to write a plot that closely follows the mindless romance storyline they are so deeply obsessed with.  Hallmark essentially used Kingsbury’s popularity among Christians to spin out another two-part movie about their typical themes.  They are obviously convinced that their audience constantly wants to see mindless romances time and again.  This movie was forced to be two parts, thus totaling up three hours of runtime, which was totally washed down the drain.  Karen Kingsbury is not at fault here—this is just another typical Hallmark disaster.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points

 

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The Passion of the Christ (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

In this landmark Biblical epic, the suffering of Christ is depicted on the big screen.  Beginning in the Garden of Gethsemane, continuing to the various trials and through brutal torture, the final hours of Jesus are shown as He struggles up the Via Delarosa to the final reckoning at the Place of the Skull.  Complete with flashbacks to Jesus’ previous ministry and windows into the spiritual battle surrounding the crucifixion, The Passion of the Christ was a game-changer in Christian-based film that opened up a whole new world by refusing to fall into the trap of cute and clean Bible movies.  The real passion of Jesus Christ was horrible and wonderful, and something that we as Christians should never take for granted.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

As a professional and talented director and screenwriter, Mel Gibson puts his gift to a greater good in The Passion.  The camera work is epic, including great angles and clear video quality.  Sound quality is exquisite and the sets and locations are diversely realistic.  Of course, the main element of the production—the gore—may seem excessive to some and may frighten young children, but it is necessary to show Christ’s suffering in this way because any other way would minimize His sacrifice for us.  First century Judea was violent and Jesus’ persecution was intensely awful, and The Passion captures this unfortunate reality.  Finally, the musical score greatly enhances the film.  In short, while Mel Gibson is not an exclusively Christian director by any means, he has shown Christians how to make a great production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

All Christians are familiar with the basic Biblical account of Jesus in the Garden, before the Sanhedrin, before Herod and Pilate, and on the cross.  But before this movie, we believe that many western Christians did not fully appreciate the depth of Christ’s suffering.  Some may consider The Passion to embellish and sensationalize the torture, but we believe otherwise.  A majority of this film is violent and gory, but for good reason.  The purpose of Christ’s suffering is clearly communicated.  The Biblical characters are realistic and are enhanced by flashbacks.  From the beginning to the end, The Passion highlights an important and too-often forgotten aspect to every Biblical narrative: the spiritual battle that takes place away from human eyes.  Jesus’ interactions with Satan are epic and make this movie all that it is.  Of course, there are slightly too many unnecessary elements to this plot, including unusual personal beliefs of Gibson, overly sensationalized subplots, and a slight deification of Mary.  These keep it from being all that it could be.  But nevertheless, the plot, though it covers a short period of time, is very deep and profound.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The decision to use Aramaic and Latin instead of modern English was a success.  Though some of the actors and actresses are American, most are actually Middle Eastern and Jewish, which is a huge step.  The cast is obviously coached well and perform well, though most of them are not blockbuster actors and actresses.  Emotional delivery makes this movie what it is.  In short, this cast proves that ‘big names’ aren’t always needed to make a great film.

Conclusion

The Passion of the Christ was an early indicator of Christian audiences’ hunger for quality Christian films.  Some churches were criticized for publicizing a ‘secular’ film, but Mel Gibson simply did something no one else would do—he shattered Bible movie stereotypes by crafting a gritty and terribly realistic screenplay on the ultimate act of love and suffering in human history.  As mostly sheltered Christians who sometimes take for granted the gross realities in the Bible, we all need to be reminded of how real and painful Jesus’ crucifixion was, lest we forget how monumental His sacrifice for us was.  It’s only a shame that The Passion was not a perfect film, yet it still lands on the Hall of Fame as one to be remembered and one that made a difference for Christian film forever.

 

Final Rating: 8.5 out of 10 points

 

The Treasure Map [1999] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Edward White Eyes finds himself in a problematic position when his grandfather has a sudden heart attack while driving through rural Oklahoma, thus forcing him to have to stay in a recently renovated bed and breakfast full of white homeschooled kids.  One of the kids, Nathan, doesn’t like Edward’s Cherokee (?) heritage or the fact that the bed and breakfast is so full with unknown guests that Edward must share his room.  What’s more is that the white kids discovered a treasure map written in a language only Edward can understand, and it could tell the deep secrets of the formerly dilapidated mansion.  In the end, this Bob Jones film attacks the problem of racism against Native Americans (?) head on in a hard-hitting homeschool epic.

 

Production Quality (-3 points)

We are convinced that The Treasure Map was filmed on a videotape camcorder.  Of course, they likely didn’t have access to much else in 1999, but still.  This production is obviously and ridiculously cheap, with grainy video quality and horrible sound quality.  The sets and locations are passable, but everything just screams backwards homeschoolers.  As a side note, I am not discriminatory against homeschooling—I was a homeschooler through high school.  The problem with movies like this and entities like Bob Jones is that they make all homeschoolers look like white racist fundamentalist patriarchal fools.  But I digress.  Treasure Map’s musical score is perhaps the most annoying we have ever experienced, like it was ripped off of some cheesy white Christian kids music video.  There is really nothing good to say here, and we have only just begun,

Plot and Storyline Quality (-3 points)

The movie begins with every other line being narrated.  From there, the unrealistic time-lapse renovation of a ‘haunted’ mansion is displayed, complete with ridiculous homeschooling stereotypes, like kids not getting any education accomplished and matronly mothers constantly working in the kitchen and cleaning up the house.  Then comes the Native Americans, two characters who do not seem even remotely descended from tribal nations.  Edward is likely the most absurdly mumbling character ever to grace a video screen, with more than half of his lines being indiscernible.  How ridiculously obvious can a name like Edward White Eyes get?  Nathan is an immature racist until he gets ‘fixed’ and becomes a perfect character.  It seems like the entire goal of this plot is to ‘Christianize’ the ‘heathens’ and the treasure antidote is just an excuse to make a movie.  Not a single thing is really accomplished in this so-called plot except for running around looking for ‘treasure’, building teepees, doing tribal dances, dressing up in tribal stuff, going back and forth to the hospital, and attempting to deliver dialogue.  This plot is likely a window into the worldview of Bob Jones University, a very scary place indeed.

Acting Quality (-3 points)

Did we mention that the ‘Native American’ actors are actually Caucasian?  Apparently Bob Jones only employs white actors and actresses.  Besides this, this cast is the worst we have ever seen, with terrible mumbling line delivery and no believable emotions.  Those that can actually say discernable words are over the top and robotic.  Once again, another horrible section for The Treasure Map.

Conclusion

As an added bonus, Treasure Map received the first ever negative x-factor point for being especially horrible in every possible way.  It’s no coincidence that Bob Jones University named their filming arm Unusual Films, because that’s exactly what this movie is.  White backwards patriarchal Christian fundamentalism is on display for the world to see in this film, and we found it overall offensive and repulsive, besides the fact that this is just an epic-ly terrible movie, thus garnering the lowest overall score to date from Box Office Revolution.  With no potential whatsoever, The Treasure Map should have never been made and can now only serve as a textbook example of an awful Christian film.

 

Final Rating: -10 out of 10 points

 

Last Flight Out [2004] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Dan, a repossession agent, has been billed by Tony Williams, the father of the man whose death Dan blames himself for, to find his daughter Anne, a missionary doctor who is now lost in the Columbian jungle.  What’s more is Dan used to be in love with Anne, and now she’s on the run, with a struggling Christian village, from ruthless drug lords.  Dan, an agnostic, must take on the impossible task of airlifting an entire village out of a remote jungle area in order to fulfill his mission.  In the end, Dan will have to decide what he really believes about God and life.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Even in its last stages, Worldwide Pictures always set the tone for Christian movies in their era, the late 90s and early 2000s.  For an independent action film, the production of Last Flight Out is quite good.  The camera work is solid, including angles in action scenes, as well as video and sound quality.  The props are well utilized and realistic.  While the sets and locations are limited, they are used very well.  The only issues to bring up here are some poorly edited sequences that tend to isolate the audience and some slightly cheap special effects.  There are multiple very small issues here that keep this production from being all that it could be.  But overall, Last Flight Out continues its theme of top quality production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Action adventure plots are hard to create without falling into typical plot clichés.  For the most part, Last Flight Out avoids textbooks errors.  The dialogue is realistic and to the point, yet it does not develop the characters to their fullest potential.  This is a shame, since there are few characters that carry the whole plot.  Realistic events occur throughout the film.  The overall story is also very linear with too many filler scenes.  There is nothing inherently wrong with the plot—it’s just very simplistic and straightforward.  Action adventure plots need to be dynamic, with twists and turns.  While Last Flight Out has an acceptable plot, it doesn’t breach the above average threshold.

Acting Quality (3 points)

For such a small cast, it is highly professional.  The actors and actresses are obviously well coached and know what they’re doing.  Emotional delivery is believable and spoken lines are authentic.  There are no negative points to raise here.

Conclusion

Last Flight Movie was so close to the Hall of Fame.  Had it a more dynamic plot and\or slightly better production, it would have been placed on it.  The unfortunate thing is that this was Worldwide Pictures’ last film to date.  They stopped just when they were getting good.  The flagship nonprofit, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, however, is still in existence, and it seems like a good time in Christian films to start back up again.  They really had something going in this early era of Christian movies, so we challenge them to use their perhaps now better resources to put out another evangelistic screenplay for all to see.  The Christian movie scene needs more quality voices, which was something Worldwide was back in its time.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

 

Road to Redemption (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

When Amanda decides to steal a bag of money from her boss, she and her boyfriend elect to bet it on a racehorse so that they can not only give the money back, but also keep a big portion for themselves.  What they didn’t anticipate was losing all of it at the races and suddenly finding themselves on the run from mafia hitmen.  Then Amanda has an idea—sweet talk her elderly grandfather into giving her the money she needs to pay back her boss.  But her grandfather has another idea: in order for Amanda to get the money, she has to go fishing with him at his childhood favorite location in Redemption, Montana.  Along the way, Amanda discovers something about herself and her family that she never anticipated—something more important than money.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

For a little known independent project, the production quality of Road to Redemption is overall pretty good.  The money is obviously spent well, with great video and sound quality throughout.  The camera work is above average, including great action sequences.  Some of the sets and locations seem cheaply limited, but others are quite good.  There are some cheesy special effects, but the editing is fairly good.  Overall, there are a few minor production errors, but it is quite good in all, especially considering the age of the film and the limited budget.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Road to Redemption is a rare type of Christian movie—an action comedy.  There is plenty of real humor and satire throughout, as the story pokes fun of many overused suspense antidotes.  There are some cheesy elements throughout that could be passed as satire, but some of it is hard to discern.  While the plot has a slightly improbable premise, there is pretty good dialogue that builds the flawed characters.  Some character behavior is a bit silly, but when viewed through the lens of satire, it makes sense.  Worldwide Pictures always demonstrated a commitment to a clear gospel presentation in their stories, and they do so here.  The plot’s biggest tarnish is its predictable and unrealistic end that patches everything up too well and leaves more questions than answers.  Because of this, the plot comes out as just average, but it still provides comic relief.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This cast is mostly professional, and they appear to be coached well, which is something Worldwide Pictures did to set themselves apart.  There are some slightly forced attempts at comedy and some over the top emotions that keep the cast from being all that they could be.  But despite these missteps, the acting in Road to Redemption surpasses the average mark.

Conclusion

Worldwide Pictures found a way, in the earlier days of Christian films, to present a Gospel message to their audiences packaged in a quality Christian movie that is enjoyable and watchable.  No one was doing what they were doing with movies in the late 90s and early 2000s.  It’s a shame that they no longer are actively making films, but their work can serve as a model to follow today.  It’s also a shame that Road to Redemption didn’t make it to the Hall of Fame—it was so close.  But it still is a great comedy movie that we would recommend.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

 

New Hope [2012] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

When the Evans family comes to the small town of New Hope to pastor the church, they inadvertently walk into a hurting town that’s still lost and confused following the unexpected suicide of their basketball star.  The oldest son, Michael, suddenly realizes that he has accidentally filled the shoes of the late town legend, and immediately becomes a target for the angry best friend of the dead hero.  The Evans family and the town must together navigate the wake of suicide and determine how they are going to discover a new identity together.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For a little known independent film, the production of New Hope is decent enough.  The camera work is average and the angles are good.  The video and sound qualities are consistently above par.  However, the musical score is uninspiring and there are quite a few editing errors.  Scenes are cut off at odd times, some scenes are awkwardly placed, while others seem completely unnecessary.  While most of the surface issues are covered, there is simply too much amateurish editing for the production to be rated any better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Dealing with life after the suicide of a family member and friend is an issue that needs to be discussed in the context of film, but New Hope is either too melodramatic, too inauthentic, or too inappropriate.  Dialogue is too obvious and dramatic, thus making extreme characters.  Michael is an okay character, but the others are not accessible.  There are too many screaming matches throughout.  There is a generally offbeat flavor to New Hope, like there’s something the characters aren’t saying out loud.  There is also some inappropriate content that doesn’t belong in a supposedly family-friendly movie, all in the context of a bizarre and forced romantic subplot.  Overall, this plot meanders along with emotional outbursts, picture taking, and basketball games, without really accomplishing anything.  The end is very rushed and the implied scenes during the credits are absurd.  In short, there is little to be positive about here.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The story here is much like the production quality—it’s good, but not good enough.  Some actors and actresses perform well while others do not.  Emotional delivery and line delivery are inconsistent.  Costuming is average.  Overall, this is just average.

Conclusion

New Hope had the right idea to try harder on production than most Christian films, but it never found its story identity.  The plot is a vague idea that it slapped together with sports elements and a pathetic attempt to be edgy.  The bottom line is that the creators rushed ahead too quickly and didn’t think this movie through.  We feel that the resources could have been used more appropriately, as will your time in watching this film.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Uphill Battle (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Erica Stratton wants to move on from her divorce and from the wounds it caused, but she is struggling to connect with people and to guide her teenage children in life.  She has taken up cycling as a pastime and is trying to spend more time with God, but she has mostly shut herself off from other people, except for her coworkers.  But when a fellow cyclist takes interest in her and pursues her, she doesn’t know what to do.  She is also preoccupied with trying to keep her kids out of trouble so that they do not end up like her husband.  In the end, she will have to decide if she wants to move forward or keep looking back to the painful memories of the past.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For a film of this caliber, the production of Uphill Battle isn’t really that bad.  The video quality is mostly clear, but the camera work is somewhat amateurish.  Some of the angles are awkward, while others are not.  The sound quality is inconsistent, but most of the outside scenes are filmed fairly well.  The sets and location aren’t very creative or professional.  There are flashbacks that are presented in a cheesy fashion.  In this same vein, the editing is all over the place.  In the end, the production is just average—not horrible nor great.  Unfortunately, this cannot be said about the remainder of the film.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Somewhere, there is a good idea hidden in Uphill Battle.  Divorce needs to be explored on the big screen, as do addiction and post-divorce scars, but Battle just muddles all the issues.  Characters are portrayed as black and white, as either perfect or evil.  Erica is almost a mockery of women, as she seems empty and air-headed, always forgetting things and hiding from people.  Her ex-husband is over the top and unbelievable.  Other characters are mindless.  The plot meanders along with no real direction—things just happen randomly, characters talk about things without engaging the audience, and then the movie just ends awkwardly.  It seems like this was an idea that never really panned out and needed to be re-thought at the storyboard.  The good message is lost in another poorly made Christian film.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

This cast needed some serious coaching that they do not get.  They show potential that is not tapped.  Emotions aren’t believable and line delivery is either lackadaisical or overdone.  In short, this film wouldn’t have been nearly as bad with better coached actors and actresses.

Conclusion

Another film review, another wasted idea.  There are countless Christian movies like Uphill Battle that take a vague interesting concept and run with it, forcing a movie to be made without any real thought or effort put into it.  The end result is a continuously flooded movie market that further defames the title ‘Christian film’.  If you have a great movie idea, then take your time to make it great so that you can truly make a difference in culture.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points

 

Seven Days in Utopia (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When he blows his chance to make it big on the golfing scene, Luke Chisholm has a televised meltdown that leads to him running from his controlling father and crashing into a farm fence.  The owner of the land, rather than take him to the authorities, decides to let him stay there and learn some finer points of golf.  Frustrated and skeptical, Luke begins taking eccentric golf lessons from the older man and soon finds that the farm, Utopia, is more than it seems, just as his new mentor is more than he seems.  Little does he know that he is about learn more than just how to play golf better, but how to win in life, and that seven days in Utopia can change everything.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Seven Days in Utopia is obviously a well-made project.  The creators did their production homework and scored.  The camera work is great and enhances the film, including artistic camera angles and clear video quality.  Outside scenes are filmed well.  The musical score is intriguing.  The surroundings are authentic.  The only caveat to raise here is that some parts seem like they need to be edited better—there are some wasted scenes that only fill time.  But otherwise, Utopia is a top-notch first-time production that should serve as a model to follow.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

For a sports plot, Utopia is very unique psychological journey.  It reminds the audience that there is more to every sport than just technique—athletes are people with pasts that need to be dealt with appropriately.  While the message is not as explicitly Christian as it could have been, the point is clear: behavioral tendencies need to be explored head-on into order to live up to one’s full potential.  The plot of Utopia is a slow burn, and is more than it seems, which is also conceptualized in the plot.  Flashbacks are used exquisitely to strengthen the story.  Dialogue is profound and the characters are solid.  As previously mentioned, there are too many filler scenes that keep this plot from being all that it could be.  However the end of the movie is extremely epic and changes everything for it.  Without this end, this movie wouldn’t be what it is.  Utopia has arguably one of the best sports ends on the market.  In short, while it had room to grow, this film is definitely one of the best of its genre.

Acting Quality (3 points)

This is obviously a professional and well-coached cast.  This is not an exclusively Christian cast, but there are no acting errors here.  Emotional delivery is great and line delivery is solid.  There is nothing to complain about here.

Conclusion

Utopia is a one-of-a-kind movie; there has never been one like it and there likely won’t be again.  It should serve as an example to the inspirational market of how to make a niche movie that stands out among the rest that are easily forgotten.  We were disappointed in its lack of a clear Christian message, but Christian elements exist.  Nevertheless, it earns a Hall of Fame spot and its concepts should be replicated in different and creative ways.  The Christian market desperately needs more movies like this.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

 

Hoovey (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Jeff and Ruth Elliot are living their ideal life on a Midwestern farm with two great teenagers before everything starts to change for them.  Their lives are forever altered when their son Eric “Hoovey” collapses during basketball practice, thus leading to a medical examination revealing a brain tumor.  Hoovey is not given long to live at first, but he is given a second chance by having the tumor removed, leaving him a fraction of what he used to be.  Unable to play basketball anymore due to danger and having to relearn motor skills, Hoovey and his family are also suddenly faced with possibly losing their dream farm to the bank.  As a family, they will have to pull together in order to face the challenges ahead.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Echolight Studios has a commitment to producing quality Christian films, and Hoovey is no exception.  The camera work is clearly professional, along with the video and sound quality.  Disability plots are difficult to pull off because they require unique props, but Hoovey does it with ease.  The only negative points to raise here are slightly isolating editing and some generally inauthentic surroundings.  For the most part, the editing is good, but there are some parts that are confusing.  The same goes for the surroundings—sometimes it seems like this film is taking place in a realistic Midwestern setting, while other times it does not.  But in the end, there are only minor issues and Hoovey passes the production bar.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Stories based on true events are almost always more complex than an average inspirational plot.  Hoovey proves this.  Believable events happen to the characters and unexpected twists occur.  Not everything turns out neat and tidy.  However, since this is a character-based plot, the deepening of the characters throughout the film is important.  Unfortunately, this does not occur to the extent it needed to.  Dialogue is pretty good, but it rarely delves below surface conventions into deeper character development.  The plot uses narration as a crutch far too often.  Also, the Christian message is not very clear—in the end, the audience is just left with a feel good story rather than a life-changing message.  In summary, the plot of Hoovey is average—it started out with a lot of potential on its side, but it only found part of all it could have been.

Acting Quality (2 points)

This is clearly a professional cast and they are coached fairly well.  Emotions, for the most part, are believable.  However, sometimes line delivery is slightly lackadaisical.  Some of the casting choices don’t seem to fit very well.  But these are just small issues—the important thing is that Echolight followed through on their commitment to produce quality Christian films.

Conclusion

Every Christian studio should be committed to rolling out quality movies on a very regular basis.  Some are willing but not able, while others are able but not seemingly not willing.  Hoovey broke into mainstream markets, which makes it even more of a shame that it did not carry with it a stronger Christian message.  Had it delivered a meaningfully obvious but not preachy Christian message, Hoovey likely would have made it in the Hall of Fame.  But regardless, it is still an enjoyable film and is worth a watch.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

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