And Jesus, Too

Patient: Carmen: The Champion

Profile: A former boxing champ makes a comeback to raise cash to build big church despite mean streets, a crooked brother, various Italians and the fact that with one punch, he may die. . . . Oh, and, you know, Jesus. Think: The Champ meets Boys Town, proselytizes Rocky III, goes Spanish Inquisition on On the Waterfront,and absolves Rocky IV.

Symptoms: The third feature release for OC-based Christian broadcaster Trinity Broadcasting Network still finds them obsessed with delivery systems. Instead of satellite dishes, now it's Hollywood. Ostensibly a movie with a message, Champion is so laden with stock Hollywood characters, situations and devices that the message ends up being "If some vaguely Italian guy kills your sainted father, it's okay to nearly kill another guy in the ring as long as you do it for the right reason: real estate." Oh, and, you know, Jesus. Spiritual examination gets short shrift even though there are plenty of opportunities, such as the love interest who has fallen away from the church after being knocked up by a youth pastor. Also unexplored is the plight of her son, who must balance religion with trying to survive the streets. Instead, his predicament is tied up neatly when the Almighty—and the good folks at Firestone—causes the truck carrying the bad guys to explode for no apparent reason. The movie gets so off-track that the happy ending occurs when the champ gets $20 million to build his church—from a brother who won it betting illegally on a fixed fight. Jesus!

Diagnosis: Gimme that old-time Christian religion movie. You know, the kind Jews like Louis B. Mayer used to make.

Prescription: Dump the black-and-white characters and predictable plots and instead focus on those gray areas of morality and responsibility that not only make for good drama but also made religion necessary in the first place. Explore the love interest's conflicted feelings of spirituality vs. religion. Look at the life her son leads. Right now, everything is too easy. Second, rent The Bishop's Wife, a wonderful movie in which Cary Grant plays an angel sent to a bishop obsessed with building a big church. The angel helps the bishop realize that God doesn't require—or even want—big architecture.

Prognosis: A movie about hard choices because life is not as simple as calling in a love offering with your Visa or MasterCard.

 
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