October 26, 2006

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Facing Giants (PG)
Jesus proves to be a kick-ass football coach for a Christian high schoolís losing team in Facing the Giants.

Hold your e-mails until the end, please. Not every movie is for every person but I donít have to believe in magic to like The Illusionist or in the literary abilities of J.K. Rowling to like the third Harry Potter movie. Thusly, Facing the Giants can profess whatever it likes. But, as a movie in a theater, it should work as a story, regardless of its viewpoint. And on this I judge it. I leave it to God to decide how he feels about getting dragged into a standard-issue sports movie.

Grant Taylor (Alex Kendricks) is truly down on his luck. Heís the coach of the Shiloh Christian Academy Eagles, a sorry team that plays a half-hearted game of football. His car is a P.O.S. of indeterminate age with a cardboard window. His house has an awful smell (stench of failure?). He makes a crappy living ($24,000 a year). And, after four years of trying, he and his wife Brooke (Shannen Fields) canít seem to make a baby.

He sulks around his office, sulks around the field, attempts and fails to get his team revved up for another season. Aw, Grant, says a strange man with a smiling face and a slightly sulfurous aroma, why donít you just give up on life, buddy? And, here, try this apple. Itís yummy.

Actually, what really happens is that a group of school officials and community types hold a secret meeting to discuss showing ole Grant the door. Grant happens to overhear this and starts to cry like a big khaki pants-wearing baby.

In the morning, he prays to God (with more conviction, I suppose, than his ordinary praying). Then he goes to school and talks to the football players about praising and praying to and playing for Jesus. And then the whole school finds religion (er, more religion, I guess) and his entire life turns around.

So SPOILER ALERT, apparently Jesus is really hot or cold on a guy. Either heís going to make all your dreams come true or heís going to let you twist in the wind. (Speaking of wind, if he really likes you, Jesus will even make the wind change direction so your team can make an improbable field goal.) I can see how this makes for an excellent recruitment and retention tool for a religion but as a plot device it makes for some simplistic story telling. Were the movie to allow Jesus to be a more nuanced guy, perhaps the film could have told a story about believing even when things donít work out, praying even when a door firmly closes (forever, not just for the better part of a Christian rock ballad) on your getting something you desire ó you know, faith. In Facing the Giants, we get essentially the same story trajectory that was followed by Jake (Chris Pine) in Just My Luck. Where Grant prays to get everything he wants, Jake kissed Lindsay Lohanís character thereby taking her ďluckĒ and fulfilling all his caree
r/apartment/wardrobe/love life needs. I wasnít impressed with the storytelling in Just My Luck and Iím not impressed with it any more in Facing the Giants. By the time we get to the final game (against, naturally, the several-seasons-undefeated Giants), the weekend-drama-classes acting and the shot-it-on-my-camcorder look of the film start to grate even more than a Lohan pop song. D

Rated PG for all the God talk (at least, thatís what Iím assuming ďthematic elementsĒ means). Directed by Alex Kendrick and written by Alex and Stephen Kendrick, Facing the Giants is distributed by Destination Films in limited release (it had a initial Sept. 29 release date) and is 1 hour and 51 minutes long.

ó Amy Diaz