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"LAST OUNCE OF COURAGE"
(2012) (Marshal Teague, Nikki Novak) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A decade after his son's military death, a veteran decides to stand up against political correctness and bring Christmas back to his small town.
PLOT:
Bob Revere (MARSHALL TEAGUE) is a war veteran living in Mt. Columbus, a small town where everybody seems to know everyone. He's happily married to Dottie Revere (JENNIFER O'NEILL) and is proud of his son, Thomas (AUSTIN MARKS), when he heads off on a military deployment, what with being a veteran himself. But Thomas ends up killed in combat, leaving Bob and Dottie devastated and Thomas' young wife, Kari (NIKKI NOVAK), widowed and with a young son.

Fourteen years later, Bob holds down dual jobs in his town, working both as a pharmacist and the mayor. He and Dottie are pleased when Kari and her teenage son Christian (HUNTER GOMEZ) arrive for Thanksgiving. While the teen is befriended by middle school student Maddie Rogers (JENNA BOYD), her dad, chief of police Greg (RUSTY JOINER) - who's Thomas' former best friend -- reunites with Kari and a romance starts to bud between the two.

Things seem good until Christian wonders why traditional Christmas observances don't occur anymore. That awakens a fierce determination in Bob, not only about what Christmas really stands for, but also the freedoms for which his son died. He then decides to bring Christmas back to his town, including having related decorations on government property, something that doesn't sit well with civil rights activist Warren Hammerschmidt (FRED WILLIAMSON) back in his Washington, D.C. office.

From that point on, Bob proceeds with his plan despite that and the legal advice of others, all of which inspires Christian, Maddie and other kids to join his battle.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
As a film reviewer, one's duty is to give every new movie a fair shake without any preconceived notions and no bias regarding its subject matter or message. After all, some films about or featuring unsavory material can be outstanding offerings from an artistic standpoint, such as "Pulp Fiction" or "The Godfather." Others that are fairly clean and/or with positive, uplifting messages can be amateurish productions that test the patience of critics who simply want to see well-made films regardless of the content.

"Last Ounce of Courage" falls into the latter category, and once again makes me wish that those behind faith-based offerings either hired competent professionals to handle their productions or went through film school to learn how to do it right themselves. About as nuanced as blunt force trauma, the film hammers home its message -- that Christmas and thus American freedoms are under attack -- without any semblance of subtlety, proper story construction, real character depth and exploration or anything above mediocre performances.

In fact, and with no prior knowledge about the film, I didn't realize that's what it's about. Having seen that it featured a father (Marshall Teague) dealing with the loss of his son (Austin Marks) in combat, I figured it was possibly a friendly fire sort of story, one about a dad not wanting his son's death to be overlooked and forgotten, or an emotional drama about the grief and guilt issues that plague parents of young men and women who lose their lives serving their country.

It is something of the latter, but the combat death early in the pic serves simply as an introduction to the protagonist's greater outrage that Christmas has essentially been neutered in their small town. Heck, even the middle school play about the Nativity has been modified into a sci-fi tale featuring aliens in place of the Three Wise Men. And the father's California grandson (Hunter Gomez) -- who's returned to town with his widowed mother (Nikki Novak) -- is sent to the principal's office for bringing a Bible to school (which made me think this might be an interesting twist on a slightly similar setup in "Dirty Dancing").

Accordingly, and despite friendly advice to tone it down and threats from the film's villain -- Fred Williamson playing an ACLU-type hotshot nearly to the point of mustache twirling (while the play's director is stereotypically theatrically gay), the war veteran decides to fight for American freedoms by displaying Christmas decorations and such on government property.

All of which brings up what could have been interesting arguments about the separation of church and state and the inclusion of other religious faiths and practices. But writer/director Darrel Campbell and co-director Kevin McAfee have little of that as the pic is decidedly one-sided and one-minded in terms of those thematic elements.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have any issues with Christmas or other religious decorations on display anywhere, public or private. Heck, I find that they seem to make people of all denominations (and even many non religious sorts) festive, happy and joyous. But this film is so self-righteous and on the nose that it only ends up preaching to its own choir, so to speak, of like-minded folks.

To make matters worse, it's a complete mess from an artistic standpoint. Beyond Ron Owen's bombastic score (that's even less subtle than the film's thematic message and thus tells viewers how to feel rather than support the emotion and motion of any particular scene), most of the acting wouldn't cut it even for a Lifetime TV type movie, the plot is melodramatic and thus unconvincing, and the direction is ham-fisted at best.

Had some imagination, creativity and talent been involved, the film could and probably would have worked far better, such as via satire (to prove the ridiculousness of how far some political correctness goes) or a thematically related and thus cautionary, futuristic tale. It could have even been done as a Christmas Carol type offering showing such "let's not offend anyone" mentality run amok, with all of the related ramifications. Not only would any of the above had made the offering entertaining, but it also could have allowed it to play beyond the aforementioned "choir."

As it stands, its lack of subtlety will clearly drive away those who don't see eye to eye with its message. That's something the film could have easily remedied by showing the protagonist actively seeking out other religious symbols to display on government grounds with Christian ones rather than briefly mentioning their rights in a patronizing, throwaway line that feels tacked on rather than sincere. After all, if the protagonist is fighting for freedom of religion for all, why not show it?

Meanwhile, those who truly believe in the film's convictions -- and the Ronald Reagan quotes that open and close the proceedings -- will likely wince at much of the clumsy amateurishness that runs through it. Remember, it's not what a film is about, it's about how well the film is made. "Last Ounce of Courage" clearly needed more ounces -- okay, pounds -- of good filmmaking to succeed, and thus rates as just a 2 out of 10.




Reviewed off DVD / Posted September 14, 2012


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