[Screen It]


(2017) (John Corbett, Nelson Lee) (PG)

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Drama: A newly ordained Episcopalian minister tries to save a financially strapped church and the Burmese refugees who've come there to worship.
Michael Spurlock (JOHN CORBETT) is a former paper salesman turned newly ordained Episcopalian minister who's moved to Smyrna, Tennessee with his wife, Aimee (CARA BUONO), and their son, Atticus (MYLES MOORE). Under Bishop Thompson's (GREGORY ALAN WILLIAMS) directive, Michael is to oversee the financially strapped All Saints Episcopal Church until its pending closure, demolition, and redevelopment into a large store.

Considering there are only a dozen or so attendees -- including recently widowed Vietnam veteran turned local farmer Forrest (BARRY CORBIN) -- Michael assumes his job will be easy. But things change when Burmese refugee and legal immigrant Ye Win (NELSON LEE) shows up.

Along with his wife and other survivors of the Burmese civil war, Ye Win is looking for a place for his people to live, work and worship, and Michael assists with all of that, including allowing them to farm an unused piece of church property. When he realizes how cold and callous the developers are, Michael kicks them out of the church and comes up with the idea that Ye Win and his fellow refugees can farm the land when they're not working at a local poultry plant, and the food they don't consume will be sold to pay the church's mortgage and other debts.

From that point on, they must contend with one setback after another, all of which leaves the church, the future of the Burmese refugees and Michael's understanding of God's will.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
As many of you may know, "Field of Dreams" is one of my favorite films. Not only is it a great sports movie, but it's a solid drama with a great cast (beyond Kevin Costner, there's Ray Liotta, James Earl Jones, and Burt Lancaster), it has a cool but also somewhat creepy supernatural tinge to it, and it might be the most religious "non-religious" movie ever made.

It's all about blind faith stemming from a command from an otherworldly voice, and persevering in one's belief, even when faced with obstacles, setbacks and even self-doubts and the questioning of one's sanity in the shadow of otherwise black and white facts. And the beauty of the pic is that most don't even realize it's a religious flick hidden inside a sports movie.

The drama "All Saints" is sort of trying to tap into the "Field of Dreams" vibe, albeit as a straight-up religious movie and with sort of a reverse storyline. Whereas Ray Kinsella hears "If you build it, he will come" (not "they" as everyone misquotes) and then decides to plow under his cornfield to create a baseball diamond, the preacher protagonist here believes God has told him to turn an old, unused ball field into a farm.

Granted, we don't hear the Almighty's voice commanding that, but Michael Spurlock (John Corbett) claims he did in this tale that's based on actual events involving a small and barely attended Episcopal church in Smyrna, Tennessee that created and used such a farm to feed refugees from Burma (now Myanmar) following the civil war there, and ended up rebuilding its congregation in the process.

Perhaps writer Steve Armour and director Steve Gomer didn't want to ape the Costner flick too much in terms of having such a voice from above (and needing to come up with their own "If you build it" sort of catchphrase), but then again much of the storytelling is fairly clunky and the editing of scenes, especially early on, isn't going to be earning any Oscar nominations.

Notwithstanding that clunkiness and choppy editing, the story is straightforward enough to follow, even if big chunks of background information are missing (the main one being how a traveling paper sales guy loses his job and then somehow and apparently quickly becomes an ordained Episcopal pastor).

However that happened, Michael is assigned by the local bishop (Gregory Alan Williams) to oversee the financially strapped All Saints church before its demolition and sale of its land to developers. He's convinced his wife (Cara Buono) and their young son (Myles Moore) that they'll be off on their next job-based adventure soon, but that's before he meets the Burmese refugees mostly represented, at least in terms of speaking roles, by Ye Win (Nelson Lee).

And after meeting those callous and cold-hearted developers who could care less about the refugees' need for food, the pastor decides they should farm said old ball fields and harvest enough food not only to feed those refugees, but also sell the remaining veggies to pay off the church's mortgage and other debts.

To most everyone except the cranky old-timer (Barry Corbin) who serves as the film's main doubting Thomas, it sounds like a grand plan. But we know about best-laid plans of men and mice, and while the latter don't show up to threaten the crops, plenty of other things do. And during all of this, our pastor begins to question why God told him to move forward in this endeavor if He was just going to challenge him on every step along the way.

I appreciate that the film doesn't make the cardinal movie making sin of preaching to the choir and getting heavy-handed with its preachiness like so many of its religious cinematic brethren. The performances are decent if perhaps a bit too stereotypical for each part. I just wish the plot were better fleshed out and more dimensional -- added fictional elements or not -- and that the aforementioned choppy problems had been worked out before this was put into final cut mode.

In the end, it's certainly not awful, but the parallels to "Field of Dreams" will not only show it's more interesting turning a cornfield into a baseball diamond than the other way around, but also that the Costner film is superior to this one in every way possible, including, surprisingly enough, as a film about faith. "All Saints" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed August 18, 2017 / Posted August 25, 2017

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