The film is a sloppy mix of comedy, tragedy and Stephen Baldwin
by MATTHEW GAULT
Faith of Our Fathers is not only the worst war film I’ve ever seen, it’s one of the worst films — of any genre — I’ve ever seen. The movie centers around a guy named John Paul George traveling to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. to learn about his father who died fighting in the war.
It’s a fine setup, but writer-director Carey Scott can’t decide on a tone. One moment the film focuses on soldiers in the jungles of Southeast Asia and the next it’s about two guys slap-sticking across America.
It’s a mess … and not a fun mess like Rambo III or Troll 2.
I knew I was in trouble early on when I first heard John Paul George’s name. Yes, the main character is named after The Beatles — a fact the film plays for laughs a half-dozen times throughout its tortuous two-hour run.
John’s father fought and died in Vietnam before he was born. It always bothered John that he didn’t know the man, so his fiance Cynthia encourages him to reach out to his father’s old Army buddies. John uses one of his dad’s old letters to track down one such buddy.
But when John gets to the man’s house, he discovers his father’s friend also died in ’Nam. There he meets the man’s son, Wayne — a cartoonish rogue with predilections for crime, atheism and toothpicks.
Wayne has a box full of letters from his dad that details the lives of both men’s fathers. He’s willing to let John read them … for a price.
The price is $100 a letter and a promise to join him on a journey to the Vietnam memorial in the nation’s capital. Wayne bullies John into the trip, and the next hour of the film descends into ludicrous Blues Brothers style road picture intercut with flashbacks to their fathers’ trudging through Vietnam.
John is a Christian yuppie and Wayne is an aggressively awful atheist with a criminal past. The filmmakers want the audience to see the mismatched pair as a comedic odd couple. In the hands of good actors and writers, the setup might work, but Kevin Downes and David A.R. White who both wrote the script and play the leads are terrible at both jobs.
Downes portrays John as a passive, miserable schmuck while White’s Wayne is a strange, growling caricature of a redneck. He growls, snarls and chews a toothpick in every scene.
It’s as if the filmmakers wanted him to smoke but couldn’t bring themselves to allow it in a family film. Even worse is his affected voice, which sounds like Christian Bale’s Batman attempting a southern accent.
These two mismatched oddballs tear across the country in a car Wayne turned into a convertible with a chainsaw. Seriously. The bulk of the film is these two men talking about their feelings and getting into wacky scrapes with minor evangelical celebs such as Christian pop star Rebecca St. James.
At one point, the duo brawls with rednecks outside of a gas station while Duck Dynasty’s Si Robertson — playing the gas station’s owner — narrates the fight to the police.
It’s supposed to be hilarious, but the scene goes on far too long and takes an odd turn when John uses an oil drum to bludgeon one of the rednecks into submission.
The Vietnam flashbacks are worse.
As Wayne forks over letters and John reads them, the wacky road trip fades into the jungles of Southeast Asia where … not much happens. The Vietnam sections are low budget chunks of men dressed as soldiers moving through a rainy soundstage.
It’s dreadfully dull until the final moments of the film. In Vietnam, Wayne and John’s fathers are grunts tasked with rescuing American troops from a downed transport plane. They spend most of their time walking and not talking.
It plays out like the worst parts of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in which Sam and Frodo wander Middle-Earth eating potatoes. At least Sam and Frodo had Gollum. John and Wayne’s dads have Stephen Baldwin.
At one point, John’s father begins to talk about the Bible but their sergeant — played by a bloated and sleepwalking Baldwin — shuts down the conversation. “That’s not why you’re here,” he tells John’s father.
He has a point. Which is to say — Christianity needs better storytellers.
I mean this sincerely. Hollywood family films are an effective means to propagate religious, political and ideological messages. Happy Feet’s dancing penguins spreads environmental concerns. Wall-E warns against a sedentary lifestyle.
Those two films’ moral messages are overwrought, sure, but they also seek to entertain first. Even when an audience feels that a movie tricked them — and they often do — it’s easier to stomach a lesson about melting ice caps after an hour of dancing penguins.
Not so with Faith of Our Fathers. The film is such a mess that its final evangelical moments feel like the absurd topping of a celluloid shit sandwich. Let’s be clear. It’s not the Christian message that ruins this film. It’s the ham-fisted acting, bizarre tone and awful production quality.
For contrast, look at The Passion of the Christ. Mel Gibson’s 2004 film is an objectively good film with an overtly Christian message. Even if you aren’t an evangelical Christian or you didn’t like the movie, it’s hard to argue that the director, actors and production staff aren’t talented.
I know Christianity can tell entertaining stories because I’ve seen them. Cecil B. DeMille’s Bible epics are a testament to old Hollywood’s power. The sad angels of Wings of Desire elevate Christian virtues and earthly joy in a divided city. The Book of Eli is an action adventure about a man carrying the virtues of the past through the wastes of the future.
But all those films seek to entertain first, then enlighten. Faith of Our Fathers only wastes time. Don’t see it.