Overcomer [2019] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

A random small town is apparently falling apart due to the local factory closing down, and this decimates a Christian private school’s basketball team and sends the coach spiraling. When he already doesn’t even know what he’s going to do about a team, his superior, the principal, forces him to coach a one-girl cross-country team even though she has asthma! Along the way, he stumbles into a random hospital room containing someone who has surprising connections to the plot! Will he ever learn who he really is in Christ beyond just being a coach?

Production Quality (2 points)

Okay, so, what exactly was this $5 million budget spent on? Much of the production is fairly uninspiring. As usual for the Kendricks, it’s fine and mostly professional-looking, but for reals…all we get from this dollar amount is a bunch of vanilla sets, props, and locations mostly pertaining to people’s houses, a school campus, and lots of running\training footage? The decade-plus career of the brothers who brought Christian film out of the dark ages culminates with this? Besides the overall blah-ness of the layout, tons of time is wasted on nothing special in this film, and the editing seems very disjointed and disorganized. However, much of this could be due to the lack of any substantial plot content…

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

…which makes us wonder what the story actually is here. What are we supposed to focus on? The less than half-an-hour treatise on small towns falling apart? Five minutes of basketball footage? Alex Kendrick getting angry and throwing things? A runner with asthma? A random guy in a hospital? In all actuality, the blind man in the hospital bed is the most worthwhile subplot of the entire film, and it keeps this section from being abysmal, yet we only hear this part of the story through spoken word rather than via effective flashbacks. The only way to fix this film would be the focus entirely on this part of the story (the past and present narratives of the blind man and his interactions with other side characters) through a non-linear plot style. However, we don’t get this in Overcomer as we’re instead left with a very disjointed and disorganized storyline that gives us no opportunity to get to know the characters except that Alex Kendrick’s character is an almost-perfect white guy who has to save a non-white girl. Therein, there are many disturbing themes, such as the white family being overly good as they help the ‘bad’ African American girl; it goes without saying that a very disturbing plot point involves the school principal telling the coach to aid said minority minor in going around and lying to her legal guardian in basically illegal fashions. These actions are painted as good and never receive any consequences because the white characters can do no wrong. It’s too bad that the cross-country athlete character never stood a chance with the poor dialogue written for her character…she’s essentially programmed to respond to the prompts of her Caucasian helpers with little thought of her own. Elsewhere, old Kendrick humor is dying a slow and painful death as cringe-worthy attempts at comedy litter the already-confusing landscape of this storyline. In the end, it’s very difficult to think this plot had any other goals besides pushing propaganda and some kind of weird suburban version of Christianity.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The Kendricks can choose literally anyone to be in their films; some cast members would do it for free, yet Alex insists on continually casting himself in lead roles he can’t pull off. He and Shari Rigby crowd out the runtime of Overcomer with bland and forgettable performances that drown out better skills from supporting (non-white) cast members who are barely given a chance to do anything. For instance, Priscilla Shirer and Cameron Arnett have plenty of acting skills, but we don’t see them as often as we see awkward white people. Aryn Wright-Thompson probably has something to offer if she was ever given a shot to do something besides robotically repeat stale lines. In the end, this section is fine, but it punctuates a surprisingly bad effort from the Kendricks.

Conclusion

Minus the unusual racial undertones and the bizarre condoning of illegal actions, Overcomer is basically a run-of-the-mill church film with a sports twist. Even without the glaring issues, however, this still wouldn’t be acceptable based on where the Kendricks are in the careers. They are basically at the pinnacle of success, coming off their most successful film (War Room), so their budget and advertising resources are clearly vast. They can hire and cast whoever they wish, including actual screenwriters, yet they decided to settle for a well-produced version of Flywheel combined with the worst racial stereotypes found in Courageous to create a blandly vague idea that focuses on forcing messages down the audience’s throats. In the end, it appears as though their refusal to reach out and try different collaborations is causing them to fade into the background of an industry they helped save from the brink.

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

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Overcomer (August 2019)

Coming to theaters August 23, 2019

Writer(s): Alex Kendrick, Stephen Kendrick

Director(s): Alex Kendrick

Producer(s): Stephen Kendrick

Starring: Priscilla Shirer, Alex Kendrick, Cameron Arnett, Aryn Wright-Thompson, Shari Rigby, Ben Davies, Elizabeth Becka, Joseph Curtis Callender, Cameron Arnett, Jared Stanley, Christian Gabriel Anderson, Dave Blamy, Jack Sterner, Scotty Curlee, Denise Armstrong, Jessie Gunn, Sam Beman

Plot Synopsis: Life changes overnight for coach John Harrison when his high school basketball team and state championship dreams are crushed under the weight of unexpected news. When the largest manufacturing plant shuts down and hundreds of families leave their town, John questions how he and his family will face an uncertain future. After reluctantly agreeing to coach cross-country, John and his wife, Amy, meet an aspiring athlete who’s pushing her limits on a journey toward discovery. Inspired by the words and prayers of a new-found friend, John becomes the least likely coach helping the least likely runner attempt the impossible in the biggest race of the year.

Like Arrows: The Art of Parenting (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Charlie and Alice began their parenting journey sooner than they expected, but they quickly adapted to their new life as a family, even as their family continued to grow.  They encountered many different struggles and challenges as their family dynamic changed and expanded, but they always did their best to rely on wisdom from God in their parenting.  However, when they reached a breaking point one day, their wise friends invited them to a church conference that helped them fix all of their mistakes and begin building a lasting legacy!

 

Production Quality (2 points)

On the surface, Like Arrows has a decent enough production, which is no doubt due to the consultation of the Kendrick Brothers.  This is evident in good camera work, crisp video quality, and mostly fine sets, locations, and props.  Unfortunately, audio quality is quite up to par as many lines are difficult to discern; however, the soundtrack is mostly fine.  While most scenes are well-lit, there are some head-scratching moments of poor lighting with little to no explanation.  Further, it goes without saying that the major detractor of this production is the atrocious editing, which can mostly be blamed on the ridiculous amount of content that is shoved into this film.  On the whole, this production is fine and passable, but the issues with Like Arrows go much deeper.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

This ‘movie’ was originally a collection of skit clips to accompany FamilyLife’s new curriculum called The Art of Parenting.  It’s painfully obvious that this choppy and rough presentation of random ideas was borne out of these beginnings.  What begins as a semi-interesting storyline quickly descends into a roller coaster of content that takes the viewer from one high point to the next at breakneck pace.  The audience is dropped into a moment in time to look at one spoon-fed issue that needs to be highlighted, and just as soon as the sequence began, it comes to a predictable conclusion as the audience is prepared to zoom forward in time to another ‘important’ tidbit from FamilyLife’s outdated worldview that needs to be included.  This wild ride wreaks havoc on any hope of character development as dialogue is stilted and programmed based on what the ministry needed to push to whoever may watch this mess.  This section is only saved from nothingness by a semi-effective final scene that has absolutely no build-up or justification due to the fact that nobody knows who the characters even are at that point even as more characters are constantly introduced.  Also, it goes without saying that the FamilyLife product placements are vomit-inducing.  Essentially, Kevin Peeples was saddled with the impossible task of trying to force a collection of worldview-heavy curriculum skits to be a continuous and understandable screenplay.  No one should have been expected to pull this off since, based on the content provided, the task was a losing one to begin with.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The acting of this ‘film’ is very uneven.  Alan Powell has had better performances, and a lot of the cast members seem lost and unsupported by coaching.  However, it’s not like they had any good lines to work with in the first place.  Also, the sheet number of cast members required for the constantly changing ages (with the exception of the parents) causes a lot of confusion and extra work for directing.  Once the parent cast members are finally changed (there is a point when they seem like the same age as their adult children) and once other professional cast members are brought on (Alex Kendrick, Garry Nation, etc.), the acting actually improves for the final sequence.  However, it’s simply not enough to save this film from itself.

Conclusion

Space does not permit a full discussion on the myriad issues actually present in this film, including the mindless and patronizing treatment of women (what do you expect?), the trippy ‘futuristic’ elements in the final sequence, and the general lack of regard for understanding the struggles of real people.  This film claims to show real people doing real things, but it actually demonstrates just how far out of touch FamilyLife really is.  Did I mention how horrible their product placements are?  Implying that a family is totally fixed by going to your conference and buying your merchandise is the height of arrogance and is extremely tone-deaf.  Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that this film will make any lasting impact.

 

Final Rating: 4 out of 10 points

 

Somebody’s Child (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Though Constance is going through dialysis and is waiting for a kidney donor match, she knows that God has been good to her.  Her son Douglas always takes care of her and she loves her grandson.  However, she harbors a secret from her past that hardly anyone knows about.  Yet little does she know is that God is about to set into motion events that will reconcile the past and bring redemption to them all.

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

Gary Wheeler is always reliable in crafting a professional production.  There are very few errors to speak of in the production of this film.  Video quality is excellent, as it camera work and audio quality.  The soundtrack is good, even if it’s a little pedestrian.  Sets, locations, and props are professional and appropriate for the film.  The only small error to point out here pertains to some minor editing issues that cause the plot to be confusing.  Yet in the end, as a made-for-television movie, this production is what it should be.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Unfortunately, as a made-for-TV movie, Somebody’s Child lacks creativity in an attempt to be safe and marketable.  Though the idea behind it is interesting and though the circumstances the characters experience are realistic, this story is still too underdeveloped.  Dialogue is very generic, thus making the characters one-dimensional.  This is a character-based plot, which means we need deep characters, yet this is not the case here.  There is too much wasted time in this plot and not enough scenes that develop the characters—it feels like they are just swept along in the plot without any feeling.  Finally, the ending is very rushed and seemingly unfeeling.  Unfortunately, though this movie had everything going for it, the story fails to come through.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

As a professional cast with obviously good coaching, there are very few errors to speak of here.  Sometimes emotions aren’t what they should be, but they mostly are.  Line delivery is always on point, even if the cast member doesn’t have a very good line to work with.  Overall, Somebody’s Child is a professional film that falls short of greatness.

Conclusion

Many audiences will enjoy this film, but we are always looking for films that take that next step out of mediocrity (even professional mediocrity) and become a great, difference-making film.  With this type of funding and platform, this was possible here, but the plot needs a lot of beefing up in order for this to be case with Somebody’s Child.  Hopefully in the future opportunities like this will no longer be wasted.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points