**.5 [2.5 out of 4 stars]
Refusing to accept the premise that local independent films must truly and profoundly suck, Nathan Smith Jones cleverly riffs on the idea that local independent films generally do truly and profoundly suck. His mock documentary follows three aspiring auteurs "inspired" by Richard Dutcher's God's Army success -- and the director's subsequent disappearance -- to attempt to become Mormon cinema's Next Big Thing, despite having more testimony than talent. Jones wears three hats for the production -- he also writes, directs and plays one of the three filmmakers -- yet acquits himself admirably, tossing off some genuinely funny gags and an inspired sequence casting a biblical battle with stop-motion eggs. The film's concept even allows him to use the biggest technical limitation of local independent filmmaking -- the fundamental ugliness of video -- to his advantage. There's also a lot of dead air in just an hour of running time, and ill-advised parodies of everything from Amadeus to Raising Arizona along the way. Still, Jones offers the promise that maybe there's hope for this whole local independent film thing after all.
Opens Oct. 3 at theaters valleywide. (NR)
** [2 out of 4 stars]
Mormon Cinema gets a possibly premature spoofing.
Not rated, but probably PG for mild adult themes; 77 minutes.
Opening today at area theaters.
The rap against much of Mormon Cinema is that the movies are all based on inside jokes -- and if you don't get the joke, it's your fault and not the movie's.
"The Work and the Story," being a mock-documentary about Mormon filmmakers, is an inside joke about an inside joke. Sometimes that means the jokes are so inside that nobody gets them, but writer-director-star Nathan Smith Jones often shows a knack for setting up genially loopy jokes about the intersection of moviemaking and LDS culture.
Jones premise is that filmmaker Richard Dutcher (who plays himself), just after the success of "God's Army," has disappeared without a trace and is believed to be dead. Sensing a void, three young filmmakers aim to assume Dutcher's mantle as "the Mormon Spielberg."
One is the nerdy Kevin Evans (Eric Artell), whose Hollywood dreams are often thwarted by his doubtful parents. Another is feminist Judy Schumway (Jennifer Hoskins), who wants to make "Bad Girls of the Bible." The third is Peter Beuhmann (played by Jones), whose quest to make his movie, "Celestial Match" -- and his obsession with Dutcher -- takes over the movie's second half.
The three-pronged narrative is rather weak, as is the backstory of Dutcher's supposed disappearance (though Dutcher is a good sport for playing along). Jones, in spite of his budgetary and filmmaking limitations, gets some good digs on movie critics -- one played by the movie's only bona fide star, Richard Moll from "Night Court" -- and a cute running gag in which LDS terms are decoded using subtitles.
Jones fills out "The Work and the Story" with some oddly literal parodies of big-budget Hollywood movies -- "Cast Away," "Raising Arizona" and, funniest and oddest of all, "Amadeus." Jones may have jumped the gun by spoofing a genre that has barely started, but he does succeed, in fits and starts, in making us laugh about Mormon Cinema.
** [2 out of 4 stars]
THE WORK AND THE STORY - ** - Nathan Smith Jones, Eric Artell, Jen Hoskins, Richard Dutcher, Dan Merkley, Kirby Heyborne, Scott Christopher, Richard Moll; not rated, probable PG (slapstick violence, mild vulgarity); see "Playing at local movie theaters" for theater listings.
"The Work and the Story" is as full of cinematic contradictions as any film in recent memory.
The filmmakers claim they've tried to make something that will appeal to audiences outside of the usual LDS-film demographic -- yet it's filled with jokes and references that will only make sense to that audience.
Also, some of the things the film says may actually polarize that same demographic, which is pretty limited to begin with.
On the plus side, "The Work and the Story" does show a better understanding of storytelling and features more of a film "vocabulary" than some of its recent cinematic brethren. That despite its being stuck with a premise that can only go so far.
The film is a "mockumentary" spoofing the recent glut of LDS-specific filmmaking, similar in style to Christopher Guest's films "Waiting for Guffman," "Best in Show" and, more recently, "A Mighty Wind."
"The Work and the Story" pretends to investigate the disappearance of Richard Dutcher, the writer/director/star of "God's Army" and the man credited with starting this recent surge in Mormon cinema.
Dutcher has disappeared after the release of his second film, the murder-mystery "Brigham City." While others try to find out where Dutcher has gone, the largely unseen documentarians here conclude that he is already dead and buried. In fact, they're trying to get in on the ground level as three other filmmakers attempt to fill Dutcher's shoes.
Unfortunately, they're all spectacular failures: Judy Schumway (Jen Hoskins) makes feminist films, despite being a housewife and mother; Kevin Evans (Eric Artell) . . . well, he can't even tell his mother what he does; and then there's Peter Beuhmann (this film's writer/director, Nathan Smith Jones), who may have had something to do with Dutcher's disappearance.
Though most of the gags fall flat, there's at least one very funny bit (which suggests there is a way to make a movie based on the Book of Mormon with graphic violence).
Also, though Smith Jones does have a hard time reining himself in as a performer, he's actually managed to make the insufferable Scott Christopher less irksome than usual (albeit only slightly).
However, the film builds to one of the weirdest endings ever -- an homage of sorts to "Raising Arizona," which may only make you wish you were watching that film instead of this one.
"The Work and the Story" is not rated but would probably receive a PG for some slapstick violence and some mildly vulgar humor. Running time: 77 minutes.
Kirby Heyborne performs in "The Work and the Story," a movie that is full of cinematic contradictions.
As the growing Mormon movie genre stumbles along, I'm still waiting for that knockout production that says: Yea verily, this truly captures the essence of Mormonism.
In hindsight, the best so far turns out to be "God's Army," with a nod to "Single's Ward" [sic] and "The R.M." for at least making LDS faithful laugh at themselves.
"The Work and the Story" is somewhat of a mockumentary on the rise of Mormon Cinema -- and while it offers a clever premise, it's so amateurish that it makes it tough to watch. It would have also been helpful if it had more Mormon movies to play off of.
Anyway, it's shot in a hand-held style and based on the idea that filmmaker Richard Dutcher is missing and presumed dead. A little grisly, but I'll go along with it for now.
He's referred to as the "Mormon Spielberg," which I'm sure was a fine ego-stroking for Dutcher, but come on. He's shot only two films, of which "God's Army" made some money and "Brigham City" did not. Hardly a Spielbergian effort.
Anyway, a bunch of would-be heirs to his throne prattle on about how their Mormon movies should have been big hits, and if they'd gotten the same breaks, they would have been as famous as Dutcher.
Director/star Nate Jones seems like a fairly funny guy, but he starts to whine like Tom Arnold, and that gets a little annoying.
Kirby Heyborne, who is quickly becoming the Michael Caine of Mormon Cinema, since he's in almost all of the films, offers the best scene in this short but plodding production. He goes on about how his father was such an inspiration, and all the while, you can see the pain in his eyes from some unmentioned dark side.
Possibly the second-best part of the film was the Book of Mormon segment -- where bloody epic battlefields were scattered with remnants of eggs. Egg soldiers fighting to the death. It was pretty funny stuff and a nice touch. Too bad the "Book of Mormon Movie" wasn't as creative.
The title, "The Work and the Story," is a play on words from a popular series of historical novels among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, called "The Work and the Glory" -- which, ironically, was announced this week will be made into film. So don't get confused. Slated for a 2005 release, "The Work and the Glory" has the public backing of Jazz owner Larry Miller, who is insistent that his film have the polish and necessary financing to elevate Mormon Cinema to new levels.
That remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, "The Work and the Story" remains not to be seen and gets the dubious distinction of being the weakest in a fairly anemic arena of LDS films that's still waiting for a real "Mormon Spielberg" to rise up.
Which begs the question, where has Dutcher gone? Seriously.
OUR RATING: *1/2
STARRING: Nathan Smith Jones, Richard Dutcher, Scott Christopher, Kirby Heyborne and Richard Moll
BEHIND THE SCENES: Directed by Nathan Smith Jones in his feature film debut, shot in Utah.
PLAYING: Jordan Commons, 9335 S. State St., Sandy, 304-4636; Megaplex 12 at the Gateway, 165 S. Rio Grande St., Salt Lake City; 304-4636; Carmike 12, 1600 W. Fox Park Drive, South Jordan, 562-5760; Ritz 15, 3217 S. Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City, 973-4386. Runs 77 minutes.
MPAA RATING: Not rated