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Reviews of and news articles about
Richard Dutcher's film

God's Army (2000)
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God's Army Distributor Reports Record-Shattering Sales

Source: Mormon News
By: Excel Entertainment Press Release
Date: 6 December 2000

God's Army Distributor Reports Record-Shattering Sales Independent Film Continues to Make Waves Nationally

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- Eight months after it's world premiere, God's Army is still making headlines. The breakthrough independent film that chronicled several weeks in the lives of a group of Mormon missionaries in Los Angeles broke records at the box office, and is continuing that trend on video.

Excel Distribution, the Salt Lake City-based company which undertook both the theatrical distribution and now the video distribution of God's Army, passed the $2 million sales mark in November, the first time ever in a single month.

"A large part of those sales are the God's Army video and DVD," says Dean Hale, head of Excel Distribution. "But our music sales are also higher than they've ever been. It's like the LDS media products market has been struck by lightening and come to life."

The film has also been nominated by the VSDA (Video Software Dealers Association) for a Home Entertainment Award. God's Army is nominated as the 'Sell-through Title of the Year by an Independent Studio.'

A subsidiary of Excel Entertainment Group, Inc., Excel Distribution was primarily a music distributor before getting involved with God's Army. Also under the umbrella of Excel Entertainment Group are three records labels, which produce primarily faith-centered music distributed by Excel Distribution into over 300 stores nationwide.

Executives at Excel recognized the risks involved with branching out so quickly into national film distribution, but taking the risk has paid off. God's Army became the #1 movie in Utah for the first half of 2000, and video sales have been brisk, reflecting the popularity of the film. By the end of it's theatrical release the movie had grossed over $2.6 million, and garnered praise from critics around the country as a breakthrough religious film. Projected video sales of the film are expected to top 120,000 before Christmas, making God's Army a blockbuster in the world of independent film.

"[God's Army filmmaker] Richard Dutcher originally approached us about doing the soundtrack for the film," says Jeff Simpson, president of Excel Entertainment Group. "We understood what Richard was trying to accomplish with his movie, and it really paralleled what our vision was here at Excel. We worked together very well, and so when the moment was right we took over theatrical distribution of the movie."

Simpson continues, "It had been part of our overall vision to become a complete entertainment company, supplying great music, film, video, television and any other kind of entertainment media that is a reflection of the culture of this region. God's Army presented us with an opportunity that we didn't want to pass up."

How to be a non-LDS Mormon missionary

Source: Utah County Journal
By: Stephen Carter
Date: 7 November 2000

(Nov. 7) Matthew Brown is probably the most famous non-Mormon Mormon in America right now. Having played the starring role of Elder Allen in Richard Dutcher's feature film "God's Army," Brown's boyish face has become almost an icon of the LDS missionary to many Mormons and others who have seen the film.

Brown is currently working with Richard Dutcher on his second project, "Brigham City," playing a Mormon family man and deputy sheriff.

When "Brigham City" comes out in February, Brown's face, like Dutcher's (who also starred in "God's Army") will become even more connected to the public perception of Mormonism.

Brown himself is not a Mormon, which is something that has surprised some people to no end.

"One girl literally had a breakdown working it out in her mind," he said of one person he met who was caught off guard by his non-Mormonness.

Brown said that the late-night scene in "God's Army" where his character gains a "testimony" of God had convinced the girl that he could only be a Mormon.

"She kept saying, but you know it's true, I saw you, I saw you,'" said Brown.

A question he has gotten used to since the release of "God's Army" is: "So where did you go on your mission?"

Or if the person is aware that he isn't Mormon they are likely to ask: "So when are you going to get baptized," or "How come you're not Mormon?"

Brown said he doesn't get perturbed by the blunt questioning, it's the people around him that start getting annoyed.

Though not converted to Mormonism through his 21-day experience in making "God's Army," Brown still describes it as a spiritual time.

"I really felt everything my character experienced in the film," he said. "[Making the movie] was my own mission. And after that, I seem to know more about [missionary work] than most Mormons I've met."

Being a spiritual person to begin with, Brown said he was naturally open to the experiences of a Mormon missionary. Additionally Brown's acting style always leads him deeply inside his characters, which is probably why he seemed so convincing in "God's Army." However, sometimes he gets so deep into his characters that he has a hard time coming back out of them to resume his normal life.

During the filming of Brown's own movie project called "Marked," he played what he called "a seriously messed up character." He got so involved in his character that he couldn't sleep at night.

That same intensity accompanied his playing of Elder Allen, though not to deleterious ends.

Brown said he is glad he had the opportunity to play a Mormon missionary because it prepared him to better understand the character he is playing in "Brigham City." It also made his own life richer.

"Now I have a sort of mission background, it's part of my history," he said.

God's Army To Open In Mexico

Source: Meridian Magazine
Date: 9 August 2001

Salt Lake City, UT -- GOD'S ARMY, the independent film success of 2000, has been re-mastered in Spanish and plans are now being laid to open the film throughout Latin America. EL EJIRCITO DE DIOS, as it's called in Spanish, will open first in Mexico City on October 19, 2001. A free screening of the movie in Salt Lake City will be August 18.

It was almost two years to the day after Luis Robledo, aka Sandoval, the Lamanite, jumped up on a wall and portrayed a missionary calling Hollywood to repentance, that the Latino Star was voicing the same speech in his native tongue, for the new version. The non-Latter-day Saint co-star of the original movie is proud of both efforts. "While making GOD'S ARMY I gained a tremendous respect for these young missionaries who give up two years of their life for such a noble cause," says Robledo. "You almost never hear of people that age sacrificing so much."

"It has always been our intent to take this film to Latin America" said Richard Dutcher, writer, producer, and director of the movie. "There are 11 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints world wide, and this is a world-wide message. We expect God's Army to do extremely well in Mexico and other South American Countries."

Release dates are pending for Central and South America, but will now be coming together with the Spanish version of the movie being complete. "E-mail has been pouring in from all over Latin America pleading with us to bring the movie to them, even if it had to be in English. We did better than that. We're not even using subtitles, which would have been much less expensive," says Dean Hale with Excel Distribution, the distributor of the movie. "Brother Canals insisted from the start that the film must have the voices re-mastered in Spanish."

Omar Canals, currently a mission president in Columbia, did the translation. His daughter, Joana Canals, a TV producer based in Denver, oversaw the production. "My father so strongly believed in the project that he involved the entire family," said Canals. "We both felt impressed to take on this extra project to touch and influence the lives around the world."

A free screening of EL EJIRCITO DE DIOS for the Salt Lake area will take place August 18 at the Carmike Ritz in West Valley City at 10 am. To secure free tickets to the event, please call Scott Champion at (801) 355-1771.

"God's Army": Missionaries at the box office

By: Gary Corwin, editor of EMQ
Date: 2001
Source: EMQ (published by the Evangelism and Missions Information Service of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL)

Finally, a positive film about missionaries. That's been a pretty rare commodity since the black and white days when Spencer Tracy (playing Henry M. Stanley) found David Livingstone in the jungles of central Africa. This newest cinematic incarnation about missionaries, however, has other characteristics that add to its uniqueness. It is both dramatically interesting and evangelistically effective. This is, in fact, the best evangelistic and pre-evangelistic film I have ever seen.

But this is not a film that will please evangelicals. It is not a product of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association or Gospel Films. It is a drama about a want-to-be mainstream movement that succeeds evangelistically in unexpected ways. This is the new pinnacle of successful Mormon public relations. In the stream of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing classic Christmas hymns, successful politicians seeking high offices, entrepreneurial geniuses cornering important markets, and more recently, moving ads encouraging parents to love their children and the troubled to read the Bible, this is the new top.

As a viewer with his popcorn awaits the start of the film, there is little to indicate upfront that this is a propaganda piece. And there will be many who watch the film to its end who won't recognize it. It's that good.

Written like a documentary with soul, it draws the viewer in and leaves all but the most callused sympathetic and impressed. In less than two hours it humanizes a mission movement that has had more of a space alien quality about it than anything with which most people can identify.

Unlike most media treatments of religion, this one handled its characters as if they were real people, full of doubts and bravado, fears and fearlessness, peace and turmoil. The heroes are not perfect, but they are likable. Enough of the good guys fail or turn aside to make those who persevere that much more heroic.

Probably its most successful technique apologetically is to incorporate some of the greatest challenges to Mormon credibility -- historical evidence contrary to its theological and authoritative claims, and its exclusion of blacks from the priesthood until 1978 -- directly into the film, and to face them head on. The facing, however, comes not with fact and logic, though there are enough allusions to them to at least cast some doubt on the doubters. It comes rather through the testimonies of personal faith moments when individuals were overwhelmed by God's Spirit and came to know beyond a shadow of doubt that what they believe is true.

The most successful aspects of the film evangelistically speaking are: (1) The abundance of humor to soften the "Men in Black" persona of the white-shirted, black-tied visitors who knock on your door. (2) The elevation of inexplicable, but deeply personal, spiritual experience as the chief apologetic for the faith. There is no way to disprove it. (3) The inclusion of enough skeptics and doubters to make possible the disarming of their challenges on the subtle grounds of likability and prejudice, as well as with the counter of personal experience. (4) A connection to the reliable and loving Fatherhood of God in the face of flawed earthly fathers. (5) The inclusion of reality persuasion. There is a wide spectrum in the degree of sincerity and faith-living on display. This humanizes the movement and explains for viewers those Mormons they know who have led less than stellar lives.

This is an entertaining and highly effective film. I only wish it were possible for evangelicals to do something similar with integrity. But, alas, I do not think that's possible. While the film works well to reduce cultural prejudice against this group -- largely by humanizing it -- it makes no truth claims beyond those conveyed through the pluralistic and pragmatic watershed of personal experience. But if the primary thing you are looking for is acceptance as a reasonable religious alternative (as appears to be the case here for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) that is enough.

There is, nevertheless, a lesson here for the evangelical missions enterprise in its increasing marginalization in Western society. It is the same lesson that evangelical missions have learned so well in the far flung corners of the earth, but seem so often incapable of applying at home -- the lesson of contextual communication. Perhaps our communication is ineffective because we are still trying to cling to our pedestal position in a society that honors very different pedestals today, based on very different criteria. As a result we communicate poorly not only with the culture at large, but even with most of those in the pews of our evangelical churches.

The Mormon missionary movement may have found a major part of the answer -- tell a human story, include your warts as well as your triumphs, and respond creatively but not defensively to the criticisms on everybody's mind. Not a bad model. In the larger culture there will still always be the offense of the cross to get over, but we needn't worry about that. That's the Spirit's work. In our evangelical churches, however, we might just make some serious headway. REVIEW of "God's Army"

By: Chris (
Date webpage viewed: 6 February 2002

[Reviewer's score: 3 "Moronis" [out of 4], for "Morality and Enlightenment"] (age 8+)

At first glance, the title makes you think you're about to watch another Bruce Willis action flick, with high-time special effects and non-stop action. Then you sit down and find you don't recognize any of the characters, and there are no special effects. It is a heart-warming drama about the struggles of missionaries of the LDS church.

How does this movie represent the church and its teachings? I think, very well. It is a message to those unfamiliar and unacquainted with members of the LDS church that "Hey we are normal people with a strong belief system in God and miracles." This movie is fair in expressing concerns and questions of non-Mormons and even anti-Mormons with conveying the message that conversion is a personal experience between yourself and God, and is only obtained through your own prayers and your own studying.

God's Army is even filled with some pretty good humor. From jokes understood only by former missionaries to humorous experiences everyone can relate to. It is also very dramatic at times and thought-provoking for members of the church and those who are not. This movie is well worth checking out on this year's movie list.

'The Other Side of Heaven Can Wait,' anyone?
Some film titles seem to be made for each other

By: Jeff Vice
Date: 3 March 2002
Source: Deseret News

OK, it's now official: I need to get a life; one that includes more than just movies.

Seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, I'm almost completely consumed with watching, writing about and reading about film. (For example, one of the first things I do every day is scour the Internet for stories and rumors about new films.)

Weirder still is my obsession with collecting movie "scrambles," concatenations of movie titles -- movies with similar titles or shared or similar words in their titles jumbled together for an imagined result.

For example, try to envision "Orange County of Monte Cristo," a combination of the slacker comedy "Orange County" and "Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo." Of course, given how many anachronistic touches and characters there are in the latter film, a period swashbuckler, the end result might not be that hard to imagine.

Here are some more:

In the meantime, I'm still trying to figure out what "Clockwork Orange County" ("A Clockwork Orange" and "Orange County"), "a crazy/beautiful mind" ("crazy/beautiful" and "A Beautiful Mind") and "In the Bedroom with a View" ("In the Bedroom" and "Room with a View") would be like.
And thanks to my critical colleague Eric Snider, I've started a whole subsection of LDS-themed scrambles. Among his suggestions are "Not Another Side of Heaven" ("Not Another Teen Movie" and "The Other Side of Heaven"), "Out of Stepford Wives" ("Out of Step" and "The Stepford Wives"), "Bright Lights, Brigham City" ("Bright Lights, Big City" and "Brigham City") and "God's Army of Darkness" ("God's Army" and "Army of Darkness").
Or this one of my own devising -- "The Other Side of Heaven Can Wait" (a combination of "The Other Side of Heaven" and "Heaven Can Wait"). I don't know about you, but the idea of a smug athlete being reborn into the body of an LDS missionary makes me giggle.

Spreading the Word

By: Sarah Jimenez
Date: 23 June 2001
Source: The Fresno Bee

When Richard Dutcher watched movies featuring Latter-day Saint characters, he saw one major flaw: His people were mocked.

"I was so angry with the way Mormons were portrayed. The Mormon stereotype was very negative and didn't reflect who we are," says Dutcher, who directs, produces, writes and acts in films.

Dutcher set out to change the misconceptions associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through his filmmaking talent. His first Latter-day Saint film, "God's Army," came out in March 2000 and follows the lives of missionaries. His second and most recent film, "Brigham City," is a murder mystery that shows how Latter-day Saints use their faith to deal with a serial killer that has invaded their small town. "Brigham City" was in local theaters in April. Dutcher is working on his third Mormon film, "The Prophet," a biography about Joseph Smith, the founder of the church, set to come out in spring 2003.

"I want non-Mormons to walk out and say I understand Mormons more now and know more than just the stereotypes," says Dutcher.

Dutcher's films are just one aspect of the successful Latter-day Saint genre that is growing as fast as the church, which in the past two decades has gained roughly 2 million members every five years. Books, music, magazines and art are among the many items sold by online organizations and bookstores dedicated to the Latter-day Saint world.

While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has provided small leaflets on social issues since it was established in 1830, artistic members now are producing more material their brothers and sisters can use as a supplement to Sunday services, family nights, seminary for teens and their daily lives.

And the options for products are endless. Fiction, nonfiction and children's books, CDs, games, animated films, jewelry, computer software and action figures are just a few items focusing on the lives and beliefs of Mormons.

Much of the material is aimed at church members, but some products also try to appeal to outsiders, providing facts and answering questions about the church.

And with highly visible projects such as Dutcher's films, the artists and their works are receiving publicity outside of the Latter-day Saint family.

Mormonism is one of the world's fastest-growing religions. There are more than 11 million members, half of whom live in the United States. With the growth comes the natural by-product of arts and entertainment for the group.

"As the number of members of the church has increased, so has the need and desire for products that sustain and support our beliefs," says Deseret Book publicist Tom Haraldsen. Deseret Book is one of the largest publishers and store operators of Latter-day Saint books, music, art and accessories.

One source of the church's growth is its missionary effort in more than 120 countries. Last year, 60,784 young men and women were full-time missionaries, spreading the beliefs and doctrine of the church.

"Part of the strength of the group is that they can provide a strong community both locally and worldwide. Information and entertainment from the media are important parts of that," says Elizabeth Nelson, professor emerita of sociology. She worked at California State University, Fresno, for 27 years; during that time, she taught a sociology of religion course.

What also may serve as inspiration for Latter-day Saint artists is the comfort and ease current church president Gordon B. Hinckley has with the media. Hinckley has appeared on "60 Minutes" and "Larry King Live," published a book for the general public titled "Standing for Something" and has been interviewed by several large publications from around the world.

Artists who are church members have taken Hinckley's lead and are addressing Latter-day Saint issues and beliefs while satisfying the needs of church members through various media.

Artist Chad Hawkins saw fellow members' demand for Latter-day Saint art early in his career 11 years ago. Hawkins began drawing and selling pictures of the church's temples when he was 17 years old as a way to fund his mission trip. When he returned from his journey, people requested prints of other temples.

Hawkins wanted to be a dentist but decided he could help fellow church members more by drawing as many of the temples as possible. His recently published book, "The First 100 Temples," features 80 of his drawings as well as history on the buildings. The church has 106 temples, and Hawkins intends to draw each one.

"I look at it as providing a service just as much as providing a drawing," he says.

But not all artists who are Latter-day Saints purposely focus on their religion. They just naturally attract an audience from the faith.

Latter-day Saint Julie de Azevedo, who sings and writes songs with an inspirational flavor, says she writes about things that are important to her but doesn't exclusively produce Latter-day Saint related songs. de Azevedo says she often writes about her personal and spiritual journey, which many of her fellow church members can relate to and appreciate.

"Art is important to all groups of people, so art from Latter-day Saints is obviously needed as well," de Azevedo says.

Although the Latter-day Saint products industry is growing, finding the material can be difficult. Various mainstream bookstores and mass merchandise stores carry some of the books and music, but for a full selection and easy access, customers have to go to Latter-day Saint bookstores or order through online Latter-day Saint companies such as Deseret Book, Living Scriptures or through the church's online distribution service.

Fresno has two Latter-day Saint bookstores, Far West Books and Promised Valley Books. With about 11,000 members served by the newly constructed temple, there is a demand here for Latter-day Saint merchandise.

Both stores' owners say most of their customers are Latter-day Saints but believe their merchandise can serve a larger audience.

Kiley Powell, who works at Far West Books, says the works of artists such as Orson Scott Card, Marvin Goldstein, Greg Hansen, Gerald Lund and Anita Stansfield could appeal to many people. The store also sells several paintings of Jesus that could appeal to all Christians.

"We're in this business to supply books and paintings not only for our church, but for anybody," says Powell. Her parents, Leon and Louise Henderson, own the store, which opened 20 years ago.

People seeking more information about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can also find books that explain its structure and beliefs. "We have nonbelievers come in who want to learn about our church but don't want to be preached at," Powell says. "[The books] won't rip other religions; they're not here to put others down."

Cheryl Cox, owner of Promised Valley Books, says books, music and films also help people understand that Latter-day Saints are normal, everyday people.

"There's so much gossip about the church out there, it's best to go to the source for information," Cox says.

While both stores' owners say their businesses don't make a lot of money, they are proud that they serve the needs of the Latter-day Saint community.

"As members of the church, one of our main philosophies is to serve others," Cox says. "For me, the biggest thing is to answer questions and provide material by those who are members."

"We have the support we need to keep going," says Powell.

Latter-day Saint parents also reap the benefits of having two bookstores in town. At a time when finding family entertainment can be a challenge, the books, music and films by Latter-day Saints are a trusted and safe source for parents.

With seven children ages 3 to 17, Craig and Susie Braun are concerned about the profanity to which their children are exposed. But they feel Latter-day Saints' material alleviates some of the stress.

"There's no bad stuff in LDS books or music, so we don't have to worry about it," says Susie Braun. She says Latter-day Saints' books and music also make them feel closer to Christ.

Jason and Susie Bowen believe Latter-day Saint material helps their children better understand the Scriptures.

"As a mother, it is useful to have in my home, to use as a tool to teach my children, and it brings peace into our home," says Susie Bowen. She and her husband have five children, ages 9 months to 12 years.

Latter-day Saint animated films are the Bowen children's favorite products.

"They're fun, and they tell us about Jesus Christ," says 12-year-old Katelyn Bowen.

Sisters Kelli and Staci Braun, 17 and 15, say they listen to music by Latter-day Saints, especially the group The Standards, an a cappella group of five brothers. The Latter-day Saints' material and their seminary classes put them in a better mood and help them get through the school day, they say. Seminary is a 50-minute, before-school session for high school-age Latter-day Saints. They learn about the Old Testament, New Testament, the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine of Covenants.

Latter-day Saint Blayne Thomas says that he and his fellow members relate to literature by their brothers and sisters and are excited to purchase material produced by members of their church family.

"Without it, I would perhaps be wandering," says Thomas, church director of public affairs for the Fresno area.

"I have stability and an anchor through the material. It gives me something to hear and see that keeps me grounded in the Bible."

"Grading the Movies" REVIEW:
"God's Army"

By: Rod Gustafson
Date: 2000
Source: Grading the Movies (family entertainment review website)

Overall: B
Violence: A-
Sexual Content: A-
Language: B+
Drugs/Alcohol: A-

The MPAA rated God's Army PG for thematic elements and some language.

Wanting to show Mormons in a realistic light, Richard Dutcher determined to make a movie for and about members of his church--The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Spending four years scrounging up funding, his half million budget necessitated shooting this epic in just eighteen days. Once complete, he began knocking on theater doors in Salt Lake City.

Everything about God's Army focuses on persistence--from the way it was made to the story within the movie itself, which revolves around a new missionary, Elder Allen (Matthew Brown). Arriving in LA from Kansas, the baggage Allen carries from his dysfunctional family is far weightier than his suitcase. Assigned to work with the older Elder Dalton (played by Dutcher), Allen is still struggling within himself to know if the religion he is about to preach on the hardened streets of LA is true.

During the next few weeks Allen witnesses a spectrum of experiences, from having doors slammed in his face to participating in a miraculous physical healing. In between, Allen tries to understand his fellow missionaries--one who has more serious doubts about the LDS faith than himself, and two others obsessed with practical jokes including taking surprise pictures of their roommates on the toilet. (Bet their moms were happy to see them leave home...)

People of any denomination (not just Dutcher's targeted LDS audience) will appreciate the core theme--Allen's own conversion to his faith as he persists in serving and his recognition that he must decide what kind of missionary he will ultimately become. However, both types of viewers may also be offended by the occasional irreverent attitudes depicted by these men who claim to be representatives of Jesus Christ. Finally, the use of Mormon jargon may leave non-LDS audience members in the dark (bearing a testimony?).

In Dutcher's movie, missionaries begin each day with the motto "Let's do some good." While I often see LDS missionaries engaged in community service, and know from personal experience the positive potential their message holds, the only visual evidence supplied in Dutcher's script concentrates on the good they do for each other rather than for those outside their faith.

Talk about the movie with your family...

Do you think having faith in God would improve a person's life?

The missionaries portrayed in this film often have trouble expressing their feelings about their religion with the people they are teaching. Do you ever find it difficult to share personal "spiritual" experiences with others?

The Cup is another film that looks at its religion from an internal perspective with a humorous overtone. Seven Years in Tibet looks at the positive change religion can inspire in someone's life. Since the end of the Hays Production Code (see roots of ratings), Hollywood films have been critical of religion. Movies such as Keeping the Faith trivialize it, while A Dog of Flanders shows religion in both a positive and negative light.

Movie trivia: Can you spot the pair of Mormon elders in George of the Jungle?

God's Army wears its religious heart on its sleeve with great pride

By: Mark Burger
Date: 1 September 2000
Source: Winston-Salem Journal

* 1/2 [1 1/2 stars out of 4]

Were one to judge God's Army purely on the basis of its moral convictions and aspirations, the film would rank as a supreme accomplishment.

Critics, however, have to think about the film's ability to enter tain as well as enlighten. On that count, the film -- produced by the Mormon Church -- is best suited to its specialized audience. Mainstream moviegoers may glean a few nuggets of inspiration, but even these are obscured by the film's primary function as a propaganda piece.

Although not as obnoxious -- or as campy -- as last year's surprise hit The Omega Code, God's Army nevertheless wears its heart -- and its religious denomination -- on its sleeve with great pride. This contemporary parable stars Matthew Brown as Brandon Allen, a teen-ager from Kansas who travels to Los Angeles to act as a modern-day missionary, spreading the word to residents suffering from crises of faith. He is joined in this endeavor by his older, wiser companion, Brother Dalton (Richard Dutcher).

The missionaries portrayed here are everyday people: They eat junk food, flirt (chastely) with girls, tell (bad) jokes -- and laugh wildly at them -- and even play pranks on one another. They also discuss the meaning of their faith in long, drawn-out confession scenes. It's all clearly from the heart, but there's the unmistakable feeling that the viewer is being sold a bill of goods.

Brandon -- or Brother Allen, as he is called -- isn't sure about his faith or dedication early on, but eventually he comes around, goaded on by Brother Dalton who, it turns out, is suffering from terminal cancer. This leads the film into discussions about death and dying -- and straight into soap-opera territory.

The message and meaning of God's Army certainly comes across -- that's the whole reason for the film's existence -- and its cast of unknowns occasionally lends a feeling of authenticity to the proceedings, but just as often it comes across as amateurish and self-serving.

In addition to his lead role, Dutcher -- a one-time missionary -- also wrote, produced and directed the film. It's obviously a labor of love for him.

It doesn't matter one bit what this reviewer thinks of God's Army. The film is clearly in the purview of a higher authority -- and you don't forget it for one second while watching it.

Village Voice REVIEW of 3 films, including "God's Army":
Missionary Positions

By: Michael Atkinson
Date: Week of August 23 - 29, 2000
Source: Village Voice

Just the kind of rectal self-massage that only pop icons habitually allow themselves -- albeit of a kinder, gentler nature, given Phish's high-but-low profile and relaxed lack of hit-making ambition -- Todd Phillips's Bittersweet Motel is as homey as old sweats. For rock docs, though, something historic or anarchic is usually required. It's Phish's film, literally -- like Sting, Madonna, and U2 before them, Phish decided they wanted a film made about themselves and actively sought out the right filmmaker to follow them on the road. By all lights they seem to enjoy the attention. Still, that Trey Anastasio and his bandmates don't exhibit Sting-like vanity doesn't mean there's much else on view, or that the reasons for their phenomenal popularity become crystal clear.

In any case, Phish-heads will forgive a great deal, which is of course what makes them what they are. Defined in the press that notices them by their Dead-like following, and likewise the honor of a Ben & Jerry flavor namesake, this aw-shucks group of middle-road musicians manages to be nearly as dull as the Dead. (A certain frumpy, Rorschach-like blandness might be an essential specification for the building of a full-on band cult.) Following the band on its 1997 tour from Europe to Limestone, Maine, Phillips (who went on to make Road Trip) buttresses the concert footage with de rigueur interviews and backstage shenanigans, and even the fans seem like recycled Deadheads. Anastasio spends a good deal of time responding to magazine reviews, and the claims for Phish concerts being explosive, anything-can-happen free-for-alls turn out to mean they simply don't follow a playlist.

Bittersweet Motel
Directed by Todd Phillips
An Image release
Cinema Village
Opens August 25

God's Army
Written and directed by Richard Dutcher
A Zion release
Opens August 25

Directed by Jeremy Spear
An Artistic License release
Village East
Opens August 25

Bittersweet Motel may not be a vision from deep within the cult-mold hothouse, but Richard Dutcher's God's Army is. One of the new "niche-marketed" Christian indies that get rolled out in a theater-by-theater, city-by-city distribution scheme, Dutcher's film lacks the conspirational creepiness of the Trinity Broadcasting Network-produced idiocy, The Omega Code, but -- made by and for Mormons -- it's no less out of this world. An earnest, professionally shot comedy-drama about a wise, seasoned Elder showing his fresh-faced, Kansas-bred "companion" the ropes of putting on black ties and shirtsleeves and knocking on strangers' doors with a backpack full of pamphlets (in L.A., yet), God's Army tries to show the oh-so-human side of Gospel-hawking, His Word, the Path, and so on. The preachifying and cliche wallpaper may prove a believer's point, but for the number of Mormons in New York, you wonder if it's worth the UPS bill from Utah. As for Dutcher, it's easy enough to respect his faith, as H.L. Mencken said, "only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart."

From the artless, intriguing gist of Jeremy Spear's doc Fastpitch, it seems that at least the fading sandlot sport of fastpitch softball might be worth going all squirrelly about. A neglected subculture that inhabits the vast badlands between American cities, fastpitch is a rough game, with briefer-than-pro-ball pitch visibility for the batter (due to a shorter mound-to-home stretch). An ex-Yale ballplayer and conceptual artist who dropped out of the gallery scene to pursue athletic glory for the last time, Spear encounters all manner of demigods, including the Ojibway pitching megalith Darren Zack and Maori home-run icon Shane Hunuhunu. As it is with so many clear-eyed documentaries of American substrata, Spear's portrait of unpaid, passionate fastpitchers could give filmmakers of all budgets a notion of how real Americans speak. Fastpitch may be a matter of faith by this point, but the believers aren't obsessives -- just working stiffs with a vocation.

Go to "God's Army" page 10