Friday, December 11, 2015

Movie with Abe: Don Verdean

Don Verdean
Directed by Jared Hess
Released December 11, 2015

Jared Hess is a director known for making questionably intellectual farce. His first film, “Napoleon Dynamite,” sent up high school awkwardness and satirized school elections. His second film, “Nacho Libre,” cast Jack Black as a monk who wanted to become a Mexican wrestler. His third film, “Gentlemen Broncos,” poked fun at writers, science fiction, and all brands of creativity. Now, for his fourth film, Hess takes on a broad concept – religion – and does his best to make it as outrageous and ridiculous as possible in this wacky story about biblical archaeologists and the power of blind faith.

Like Hess’ previous projects, his characters aren’t meant to be taken too seriously, but that means that they take themselves incredibly seriously so the audience can appreciate their absurdity all the more. Enter Don Verdean (Sam Rockwell), an energetic adventurer of sorts who has appointed himself an official and renowned biblical archeologist. Newsreel footage shows his eccentric nature, and his collaboration with an oily pastor (Danny McBride) sends him on a furtive hunt for biblical artifacts like the remains of Lot’s wife whose discovery promises high attendance at church but not much in the way of actual betterment of any flock.

There are many things about this film that make it a recognizable Hess production. The most notable one is the presence of Jemaine Clement of “Flight of the Conchords” fame. While Clement was the best part about the less than terrific “Gentlemen Broncos” as a thieving celebrity writer, here he is so out of place that it’s obvious that this film doesn’t care about being believable or intelligent at all. Clement plays Boaz, an Israeli slacker with helpful connections for Don in the Holy Land. Clement’s excessive performance is just what we might expect of the usually New Zealand stellar comedian if he walked into a role without putting anything into it, which is a disappointment.

There is definitely some intentionality behind this film, and other cast members are much more well-suited and prepared for their parts. Rockwell, I’ve always argued, is much better in comedy than drama, and that’s true here though this is hardly on the level of “The Way, Way Back.” Amy Ryan, always a dependable supporting character, is entertaining as Don’s loyal assistant and follower. Will Forte, Leslie Bibb, and McBride are particularly fun as rival bible thumpers fighting over congregants and a race towards biblical prestige. This film has a few laughs, but ultimately it’s a mess that doesn’t seem like it could really ever have been put together too well.


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