Monday, October 01, 2007

A Church of Basketball

What do Gary Coleman, That One Guy Who's in All the Christopher Guest Movies, and Futureman from Bottle Rocket (the third Wilson brother, the one who is a jerk and says the awesome line "He looks like a little banana") have in common? They are all in a "Mormon" movie.

So I managed to get my hands on a copy of a little movie called Church Ball. For those of you who have not heard of this movie (and I would assume this means pretty much everyone who doesn't live in Utah valley) let me just start by saying that this movie is part of this weird new thing coming out of Utah where they make movies that are primarily intended for Mormon audiences. Made-for-Mormon movies, if you will. This one's from the people who brought us LDS blockbusters such as Singles Ward, The RM, and The Home Teachers, Halestorn Entertainment. Apparently their biggest budget yet. Apparently, Gary Coleman lives in Utah now, so he might be considered local. Coincidentally, Kareem-Abdul Jabar II (the OG's son) plays Gary Coleman's son in this movie. Interested yet? Yyyeah.

So Mormon movies... this in itself is not that strange of a thing, as there is an audience for this type of picture, and Mormons (being notoriously picky about the kinds of entertainment they consume [remember the scandal about edited versions of Titanic they were selling on VHS?]) enjoy a certain type of entertainment. There has been kind of a boom in Mormons in the movies within the past couple of years, the most notable example being the whole John Haeder-Napoleon Dynamite connection, also the dude who wrote Nacho Libre, etc. and so it's no surprise that Mormons are coming out of the woodwork to make their own movies that will be predominantly marketed to audiences in Utah.

What is strange is that now they are getting bigger-name, non-Mormon actors to be in movies that have their Mormon focus slightly obscured. For example, in Church Ball, although any Mormon who watches it could immediately tell that the movie is made by Mormons, there are no explicit references to Mormonism. They never say that the movie takes place in a predominantly Mormon area, or that the basketball is being played at Mormon churches (but I mean, come on, what other churches actually build basketball courts inside their churches?) While they never really come out and say that it's a Mormon movie, a large percentage of the jokes would only be understood by Mormons, and a Mormon watching this movie would easily find hundreds of reasons why the movie is made for and by Mormons.

But here's what's weird. They seem to have replaced the word "Mormon" with "Christian" in the dialogue. They say things like "This gym is full of Christians" when clearly what they mean is that the gym is full of Mormons. Whatever, I mean, same diff. It seems like they are trying to make this movie marketable to the wider Christian audiences.

And why not? The story is fundamentally not one that applies only to Mormons. The movie is full of themes of persistence, faith, seeking a perfect faith among imperfect people, revitalizing dwindling faith, reconciling the American notion of maleness with basic Christian values, and not losing your temper while playing basketball.

My question is how do these non-Mormon actors feel about being in made-for-Mormon or made-for-Christian movies? I mean, we all know that Kirk Cameron and Mr. T. have been in some pretty cool made-for-Christian movies (old friend Maggie Rosenbloom was an avid collector of this genre), but we also know that they are confirmed Christians, and we also know that they haven't really had a lot of work in regular movies or TV for a while now (although I hear Mr T's new reality show is pretty cool), so perhaps they are taking what they can get.

So I'm sure the real question on everyone's mind is, does this movie suck or what? The first time I saw it, I thought it was great. The second time I watched it, I thought it was the worst thing I had ever seen. The third time I watched it was with a panel of trusted non-Mormons. After an intense night of Cranium Turbo, I suggested as a joke to the remaining dudes that we watch Church Ball. Everyone was like "yeah, ok." In addition to certified Mo-Mos Torlando and Jordan Butler, regular dudes Mike Bridavsky, Andrew Restrepo and Jon Anderson surprisingly did not think it was a bad idea to watch this movie, probably because it had Gary Coleman in it. To my surprise, they did not hate it, and laughed at most of the jokes (the only joke they didn't get was when the ladies were fighting over who got do the Visiting Teaching lesson, but maybe that was just because it wasn't funny). The next day at Club Kirkwood, Andrew came up to me and said that he wanted to watch it again, this time listening to the commentary. Yeah. Wha? Probably drunk. Probably awesome. Mike Bridavsky said that it was the movie equivalent of an Arby's commercial. You can take these reactions to mean whatever you want. Mostly I am confused by this movie, but that's cool, ya know.

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