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With the Vietnam War raging in 1969, two young fathers report for duty. A man of great faith and a doubtful cynic. A quarter-century later, their sons, Wayne and John Paul (David A.R. White and Kevin Downes), meet as strangers. Guided by handwritten letters from their fathers from the battlefield, they embark on an unforgettable journey to The Wall-the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Along the way, they discover the devastation of war cannot break the love of a father for his son. Written by
A mix of terribly contrived comedy and mercifully obvious moralizing
Last year's Fourth of July weekend saw Dinesh D'Souza's "America" gracing American cinemas with its presence, telling us American shame was a byproduct of a false idea of history and questioning where the world would be had American never come into existence. To keep with the tradition of a country that loves making films that simultaneously stroke the nation's ego as well as adhering to the importance of "traditional values," Fourth of July 2015 brings us "Faith of Our Fathers," another link in the chain of abysmal, independent Christian cinema.
What makes "Faith of Our Fathers" bad isn't its flag-waving pride for America as a plea for sentimentality (it doesn't use that device as much as you'd like to believe) but it's commitment to painting the most uneven picture with caricatures for characters and circumstances so incredulous they border the line of science-fiction. We are immediately introduced to John Paul George (yes, that's the name of the character we must take seriously, played by Kevin Downes, who looks like Matt Damon's clone) and his fiancée Cynthia ("Full House"'s Candace Cameron Bure). Any time these two characters are on screen together make for a cringe-worthy bout of joking or fighting, but I digress. John Paul is digging through boxes of his late mother's old things and finds pictures and a flag from his late father's tour of duty in Vietnam. He finds the name "Eddie Adams" in the box of things and decides to look him up in hopes he has information about his father, for he knows depressingly little.
After several dead-end phone calls, he stumbles upon the right man, who lives in the in the backwoods of Mississippi, and makes the effortless flight out to the land to hopefully meet the man who can tell him what happened to his father and how he died. Upon arriving, John Paul meets Wayne Adams (David A.R. White), Eddie's son, a wily, unpredictable loudmouth who allows John Paul to sleep over. John Paul is awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of Wayne chainsawing the roof off of his beloved 1965 Ford Thunderbird, with Wayne stating he'll give John Paul his own father's letters, which reveal things about his father Stephen, if he (a) pays $500 per letter and (b) takes a trip to The Vietnam Wall with him.
What ensues is a terribly contrived, uninteresting bout of roadtrip clichés with shots of John Paul and Wayne's fathers fighting in combat in a group led by Sergeant Mansfield (Stephen Baldwin) interjecting this bumpy ride. The only thing worse than a roadtrip film full of clichés and narrative shortcomings is a roadtrip film that includes both and features two insufferable characters. John Paul's tired old moral soul character is about as empty as it can be and Wayne is a cloying brute who's obnoxiously fake accent and stubborn tendencies make for another character who is immediately unlikable.
As with any contemporary Christian film, the elements of God and Jesus need be mentioned in nearly every scene to some degree but none can be proposed in passing or the subject of a simple, heart-to-heart conversation. "Faith of Our Fathers" has to masquerade in its religious beliefs, etching the names of God and Jesus in dreary monologues that continue to affirm the importance of these figures in a way that makes the speaking character condescend to those who do not believe in such a being. This is the fundamental flaw with most contemporary Christian films - their inability to accept that people can indeed be good and moral without the presence of a supreme being.
Despite four heads (Downes, White, director Carey Scott, and Harold Uhl) working to pen the screenplay, "Faith of Our Fathers" is still burdened by bogus emotional mawkishness, the kind where somber orchestration cues you in on when to shed tears. It gets even more flashy when Si Robertson of TV's "Duck Dynasty" has to show up as the eclectic manager of a gas station, who peddles beef jerky to all of his customers. This is now the second Christian film to use the "Duck Dynasty" cast as cameos (the first being "God's Not Dead") and each time it has resulted in nothing more than sale and obvious pandering that the audiences for these films still has ostensibly not realized because they keep eating it up whenever such cameos occur.
Finally, there's the film's latter act, which is so entirely unbelievable and contrived that it makes some science-fiction films seem probable. It's the kind of "unexpected" reversal that would work really well if it were even a hair realistic or believable, but by then, the film's directors and writers rely on their audience to be baited hook, line, and sinker by the emotional elements that the concluding sequences will simply seem like divine fortune that was meant to be all along. It's a cheap ploy that only worsens an already lackluster film, as we must listen to a sermon about God, his mysterious ways, and how the boys' fathers lived a life that served God and their country, set to uplifting choral music that makes for nothing but overwrought storytelling.
"Faith of Our Fathers" will most likely be prodded by critics but loved by its audience (choir), who will presumably call the film's detractors uptight secularists that can't appreciate a good, moral film. If my opinion on "Faith of Our Fathers" makes me that, then I'd rather be that than someone who buys into the trite on display with this film.
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