[Screen It]


(2022) (Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson) (R)

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Drama: A crude and crass, non-religious man decides to change his life and become a priest.

Stuart Long (MARK WAHLBERG) is a boxer who has to give up the profession for medical reasons. Thinking he has what it takes, he tells his mother, Kathleen (JACKI WEAVER), that he's decided to move to L.A. to become an actor but has no plans of seeing his long-estranged father, Bill (MEL GIBSON), who lives there.

As to be expected, Stuart doesn't find instant success and ends up having to take a regular job. While working at a grocery store, he spots Carmen (TERESA RUIZ) and is instantly smitten. His course demeanor doesn't sit well with her Catholic upbringing, and so he decides to become religious to try to win her over, which ultimately works. But following an accident that leaves him badly injured and has him experience a religious epiphany, he decides to become a priest.

But he must convince his various doubters, including Monsignor Kelly (MALCOLM McDOWELL), that he's sincere and the right sort of man for that sort of profession. As he tries to prove his worth, he must deal with other setbacks that test his newfound faith.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10

One complaint that some people have about faith-based movies is that they're too squeaky clean and thus not realistic in today's modern -- and often coarse -- world. While that's true on occasions -- especially depending on what the given subject matter might be -- being devoid of such material shouldn't be the sole (or should that be "soul") reason for giving such a flick an automatic dismissal or thumbs down critique.

That said, for those who stand by such devout "I'll pass" cinematic FBM beliefs, have I got a rough around the edges, faith-based film for you, warts and all (and then some). But it's not satire or black comedy as some might expect. Instead, it's based on a true story of reformation, both religious and personal.

The film is "Father Stu" and if anything, it can't be accused of being sanitized in the slightest as it very much earns its R rating. This probably won't sit well with viewers with strong religious convictions, except for the fact that it's about the redemption of sinners and finding faith after leading a sinful life.

Aside from some real-life archival footage that shows bits of the real Stuart Long, I have no idea how -- ahem -- faithful this offering from writer/director Rosalind Ross is to the facts or how much arrives courtesy of artistic liberty. If most if not all of it's true, then it certainly operates in the fact is stranger than fiction realm, as the character as depicted here is about the last person you'd likely guess would end up as a priest.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Long, a boxer who's never made it big and then has to give that up for medical reasons, all of which is a relief to his mom (Jacki Weaver). But he then drops the bomb that he's moving to Los Angeles as he's certain his future is that of being a professional actor, although he has zero intention of seeing his long-estranged father (Mel Gibson) while there.

The catalyst for the beginning of Stuart's change comes in the form of Carmen (Teresa Ruiz) who catches his eye in the grocery store where he works. But his coarse (and near stalking) ways tell her everything she needs to know. But like a boxer who keeps getting up after being punched to the canvas, Stuart doesn't give up. And thus begins his religious awakening to try to win her over, although that ends up going ever farther than either could have guessed.

As a storyline and character concept, that's all fine and dandy. But just like the protagonist is rough around the edges, so is the film. The pivot points in his story arc often feel abrupt and rushed, while the flick is over-edited, especially early on. That feels like it's either Ross -- in her feature debut behind the camera -- trying to emulate in parallel the roughness of Wahlberg's character or is a sign of not feeling confident enough with the material and thus the need to try to spice things up visually and pace-wise.

And perhaps that's why, and despite the performances generally being good, I never felt any deep emotional connection to the characters, and the story and its unusual arc similarly didn't do much to engage me. Viewer mileage might vary in that regard, and I'm glad this wasn't another of those preaching only to the choir type of a faith-based movie. I just wish it had been better, as it certainly seems as if there's likely an amazing, real-life story behind it. "Father Stu" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed April 9, 2022 / Posted April 13, 2022

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