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

2015 Box Office Revolution Awards

Every year, movies are released and cast members show off their talents.  Writers and directors showcase their creativity.  Films are separated into roughly three groups: the truly talented, the potentially great, and the others.  At Box Office Revolution, we believe it is our prerogative to annually recognize those movie makers and players who have the ability to bring revolution to Christian entertainment.

 

Reader’s Choice Movie of the Year: War Room

Runners-up: Woodlawn, Beyond the Mask, Old-Fashioned

 

Staff Choice Movie of the Year: Woodlawn

Runners-up: War Room, Old-Fashioned, Beyond the Mask

 

Staff Choice Actor of the Year: Caleb Castille (Woodlawn)

Runners-up: T. C. Stallings (War Room), Sean Astin (Woodlawn), Andrew Cheney (Beyond the Mask), Rik Swartzwelder (Old-Fashioned), Nic Bishop (Woodlawn)

 

Staff Choice Actress of the Year: Priscilla Shirer (War Room)

Runners-up: Karen Abercrombie (War Room), Kara Killmer (Beyond the Mask), Elizabeth Roberts (Old-Fashioned)

 

Staff Choice Directors of the Year: Andrew Erwin\Jon Erwin (Woodlawn)

Runners-up: Chad Burns (Beyond the Mask), Rik Swartzwelder (Old-Fashioned), Alex Kendrick (War Room)

 

Staff Choice Writers of the Year: Paul McCusker\Stephen Kendrick\Brennon Smith\Aaron Burns\Chad Burns (Beyond the Mask)

Runners-up: Rik Swartzwelder (Old-Fashioned), Jon Erwin\Todd Geralds\Quinton Peeples\Mark Schlabach (Woodlawn), Alex Kendrick\Stephen Kendrick (War Room)

 

Staff Choice Soundtrack of the Year: Woodlawn

Runners-up: War Room, Old-Fashioned, Beyond the Mask

War Room (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Elizabeth Jordan, on the surface, has an ideal life—a good job, an expensive house, a husband with a high salary, and a nice daughter.  However, something isn’t right, something is just missing.  She can’t really seem to get along with her husband anymore, he seems distant and preoccupied with other women, and she barely knows her daughter anymore.  Everything changes for Elizabeth when she meets her new realty client, Miss Clara.  Miss Clara subtlety pricks into Elizabeth’s personal life just enough to make Elizabeth interested in finding out what Miss Clara’s secret to happiness is.  After talking long enough, Elizabeth discovers that her life is not alright and that Miss Clara’s secret weapon is worth a try.  The secret weapon?  A war room, or a prayer closet.  Miss Clara teaches Elizabeth to fight for herself and for her family on her knees so that God can fight for her rather than her fighting for herself.  Little did they know that the battle had only begun.

 

Production Quality (3 points)

In the same vein as Courageous, the production quality of War Room is high.  Despite this being the first Kendrick movie away from Sherwood Baptist Church, nothing in the area of production quality changed between Courageous and War Room.  While there are no real action scenes in War Room, the diversity of sets is still present.  The soundtrack fits into the film neatly.  The editing and the production give the movie a close to home feel, which seems to be what the creators were going for.  In short, this is business as usual for the Kendricks.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

The plot of War Room follows a typical non-linear Kendrick plot with minor twists and turns—one that defies conventional plot structure.  In the beginning, the plot depicts realistic struggles of accessible characters paired with a clear Christian message, which is a hallmark of the Kendrick brand.  Dialogue is mostly effective in building character motive and driving character arcs, and the message is obviously a powerful one, but there is a point where the storyline of this film overstays its welcome through multiple moments that seem like the end and through stop-and-start sequences that lag on a bit too long with the purpose of driving home how the characters have become seemingly perfect.  Thus, while there is plenty of good in this plot and while there is no doubt of the film’s success, we needed a bit more realism in the arcs of the characters.  However, the message of War Room is still worthwhile.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

In the first movie away from the Sherwood acting pool, there are no concerns here.  The actors behave just as all actors do under the tutelage of a Kendrick movie crew.  The delivery of lines is solid and the emotions are believable.  This type of movie is heavily dependent on the acting quality, and they did not disappoint.  A continued under-appreciated aspect of Kendrick films is their commitment to diversity of casting.  This is huge, since Christian movies should be better than mainstream movies.

Conclusion

The Kendricks have a brand, and they are sticking with it.  War Room feels like a redux of Fireproof with better cast members and a less textbook message, but the up-and-down career of the Kendricks continues in this rendition.  They know their audience, they have the marketing skills down, and they have the name recognition to basically do whatever they want from here on out and still have box office success.  War Room takes another spot on the Hall of Fame, but we have to wonder if the Kendricks will branch out in their post-Sherwood career or if they will continue to churn out more high-quality but safe films.  We are banking on the latter, but we will be looking for them to do something more creative in their next film.

 

Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points

 

Flywheel (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Jay Austin is a typical used car salesman: dishonest and unashamed of it.  He will do anything to make good margins, including cheat old women and lie outright about the quality of his vehicles.  However, his financial situation is not what he wants it to be, as he is at risk of losing his business to foreclosure.  He calls himself a Christian, but he does not feel conviction for his actions until one day, when he is desperate, he happens upon a television sermon that pricks his conscience regarding his common business practices.  In order to receive God’s favor, Jay turns his philosophy around and begins to build a reputation of integrity for himself.  This causes him to part ways with some of his salesmen, who learned Jay’s former dishonest ways.  On the brink of losing his business, Jay cries out to God and obeys His prompting to return money he cheated out of people.  Following this, a miracle occurs when Jay sells nearly every car on his lot on the day his bill is due at the bank.  It was that day that Jay truly learned what it meant to serve God in all areas of his life.

Production Quality (.5 point)

Anyone who knows anything about the Kendricks knows that Flywheel is not their best movie by far.  The camera work is very poor, as is the editing.  Sometimes the video is hard to make out and there are frequent background noises that disrupt viewing.  Camera angles are not the best.  There are quite a few lighting issues.  While this looks like an overall cheap production, first time film makers get a break on production quality, especially if the budget is tight.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The plot of the inaugural Kendrick film is not bad, but it could be better.  It showcases the beginnings of the trademark Kendrick non-linear plot style, but not to its full potential.  Most of the characters are stereotypical and the dialogue is un-compelling.  There is really nothing dynamic here except for some brief comedy scenes that hold the attention.  The ending is fairly predictable, but Kendricks do a pretty good job at driving home the parable narrative.  They showed great potential, even early on.

Acting Quality (1 point)

The poor acting can be excused by not only the early stages of Kendrick productions, but also the fact that this movie is made of entirely inexperienced or semi-experienced actors.  While many of the actors are seemingly down to earth and realistic in some respects, they are not up to par with high quality productions.  Thankfully, Kendrick movies did not remain on the level of Flywheel.

Conclusion

In the end, Flywheel shows a lot of raw talent, initiative, and want-to.  The production is raw and honest.  The plot is semi-complex and the actors are close to home.  However, it is not enough to warrant a re-watch.  Flywheel will forever serve as a reminder of how blockbuster moviemakers get started.

 

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points