Thursday, September 13, 2012

Last Ounce of Courage: Celebrating Christmas and Veterans Day

Don’t say “Happy Festivus” to Mayor Bob Revere.  He is sick and tired of substituting the word “holiday” for Christmas and he is going to do something about it.  In the process, he just might heal his family in Darrell Campbell & Kevin McAfee’s Last Ounce of Courage (trailer here), which opens nationwide tomorrow.

Fifteen years ago, Tom Revere willingly enlisted, with full knowledge he would fight in a Mid East war.  He wanted to serve his country and follow in his decorated father’s footsteps, even though it meant temporarily leaving his pregnant wife Kari.  He never returned.  Nobody took it harder than his father Bob.  Emotionally withdrawing from life, the pharmacist-mayor is basically going through the motions until his daughter-in-law moves back to town with the grandson he hardly knows.

It turns out Christian Revere is something of a rebel, doing subversive things like sneaking Bibles into the public high school.  At one point, he challenges his grandfather as to why his town no longer publically celebrates Christmas.  It is a question the Mayor has no good answer for.  Suddenly, the town’s crèche is out of mothballs and media-lawyer Warren “The Hammer” Hammerschmidt is seriously bent out of shape.

While not exactly perfect, Campbell and McAfee step up the Evangelical filmmaking game with Courage.  The main performances are all professional grade, including several from genuine “name” actors and there are some well conceived plot points.  Shrewdly, screenwriter Campbell casts the teenaged Revere and his friends as the rebels in their uber-P.C. high school, which is quite representative of current reality.  The cleverest bit involves their plan to hijack the school’s winter space alien visitation play and turn it into a Christmas pageant.  Though Campbell, McAffe, and company clearly faced severe budget constraints, the war scenes are rendered in rather dramatic fashion.

Indeed, the best scenes in Courage feature the younger cast members, including Hunter Gomez as the grandson and Jenna Boyd as the daughter of his late father’s best friend.  Unfortunately, Mayor Bob’s campaign to save Christmas is pretty clunky stuff.  Still, it is always cool to see Fred “Black Caesar” Williamson, even if he does little more than villainously chomp his cigar as Hammerschmidt.  Action movie veteran and real life veteran Marshall Teague also does quite respectable work as Mayor Revere.  He just has too many over-written speeches down the stretch.

Frankly, you have to dig pretty deep into the cast before you find the awkward performances that have given faith-based productions a bad name.  It is also pretty mind blowing to think Jennifer O’Neill of Summer of ’42 fame is in such a radically different film, but here she is, portraying Mrs. Revere with admirable conviction. 

However, like previous films produced with the Evangelical market in mind, Ounce has a hard time resisting the temptation to preach.  The trick is to embed the message rather than stopping to announce it.  Still, Last Ounce of Courage carries the official Chuck Norris seal of approval, so you’d probably better go see it.  Better safe than sorry.  It opens nationwide tomorrow (9/14) and opened in select theaters, including the AMC Empire in New York, this past September 11th.