[Screen It]

(2011) (Alex Kendrick, Ken Bevel) (PG-13)

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Drama: Four deputies in a Georgia sheriff's office must contend with increased drug trafficking in their county, all while contemplating their various roles as different kinds of fathers.
In the sheriff's office of an Albany, Georgia county, veteran deputies Adam Mitchell (ALEX KENDRICK) and Shane Fuller (KEVIN DOWNES), along with second-year officer David Thomson (BEN DAVIES), welcome transfer deputy Nathan Hayes (KEN BEVEL) to their fold. 40-year-old Adam is a family man, married to Victoria (RENEE JEWELL) and father to teenager Dylan (RUSTY MARTIN) and his 9-year-old sister, Emily (LAUREN ETCHELLS). But he's not as close to his kids as he could be, especially Dylan who sees his father as emotionally distant and not involved.

Shane, meanwhile, has a son he only occasionally gets to see, while David doesn't know much about parenting and not much more about God and religion, something the guys talk about often. That includes Nathan who is also married, and is raising their three kids -- including 15-year-old Jade (TAYLOR HUTCHERSON) -- with his wife, Kayla (ELEANOR BROWN). Having never known his biological father, Nathan wants to be a great dad, even if that means keeping her away from older teenager Derrick (DONALD HOWZE). And that's a good thing, because -- unbeknownst to them -- Derrick has just been initiated into a drug-dealing gang run by the ruthless T.J. (T.C. STALLINGS).

At the same time, construction worker Javier Martinez (ROBERT AMAYA) has been laid off from his job, something that worries his wife, Carmen (ANGELITA NELSON), as they have bills to pay and two young kids to raise and feed. After praying to God for an answer, and thanks to a case of mistaken identity, Adam ends up hiring Javier to do some work around his house, and he soon becomes one of the deputies' close friends. But when tragedy strikes, the various men end up rethinking their roles as dads and contemplate the effect that absent or uninvolved fathers has on crime in their community.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Our reviewing policy for films that aren't shown in advance to critics is that we'll only provide a paragraph or two about the film's artistic merits.

Any time reviewers are not allowed to see movies before they open, that usually raises the red flag that a real stinker awaits our opening day paid viewing and critique. Considering that Sherwood Pictures (part of Sherwood Baptist Church) didn't show us "Fireproof" before it opened back in 2006, it's not surprising that "Courageous" was similarly withheld from any sort of advance press screening.

Pretty much the same picture (with deputies replacing firemen as the chosen occupation while similar themes are addressed), the film shows improvements in terms of technical skills, much of the acting and actually hitting believable emotional notes (both funny and heartfelt).

Yet, it similarly suffers from the "preaching to the choir" syndrome that bedevils many a religious film (subtlety isn't their strong suit and will likely once again prevent this from being any sort of crossover hit), has some occasional rough acting, is too episodic for its own good, and could and should have been trimmed by a good 30 minutes or more. Even so, it's the group's most accomplished offering to date and that's saying something. "Courageous" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed September 30, 2011 / Posted September 30, 2011

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