Saturday, August 28, 2010

Not the most among movies: Mark Young's family/faith-based THE LEAST AMONG YOU

OK: Let's say right up front that TrustMovies, given his rabidly anti-relgious stance, might not be the most welcoming reviewer for a faith-based movie that proclaims its family-approved status on the cover of the DVD box. Check. But since the PR people handling the film asked if he would like to cover it, TM promptly said yes and, when the DVD arrived, sat down in front of his TV to view it. "It" being THE LEAST AMONG YOU (the title is taken from one of Jesus' admonitions, via Luke's gospel, that "whosoever is the least among you, he is also the greatest."  (TM knows his bible, somewhat, as he had a rather heavy-duty religious upbringing.)

"Least" turns out to be a relatively painless 97 minutes of pablum in which -- surprise! -- faith conquers all. "Inspired" as the descriptive press material explains, by a true story, the film is set in mid-1960s Los Angeles and begins with the Watts riots, as our hero Richard (played well enough by Cedric Sanders, shown above, left, with Cory Hardrict), falsely arrested, must then (in one of several rather convenient complications) give up his new job and instead serve probation at an all-white seminary.  This religious school has a President -- played with his usual simplicity and skill (and a believable combination of genuineness and control) by William Devane, shown below -- who intends to use this new young student to help integrate the school.

At the seminary, Richard makes friends (and enemies) of the students, faculty and staff -- among them, Lou Gossett, Jr. (shown below), as the smart, kindly gardener who becomes the boy's surrogate father figure and all-round good-guy helper.

As written and directed by first-timer Mark Young (shown at right), the movie covers everything from the ghetto (bad family life, drugs and crime) to the religious school  (racist, white-bread kids) with a been-there/seen-that flatness that is easy to understand and digest but offers little originality or surprise.  A bit of the latter is provided by Lauren Holly, playing the school's chain-smoking, tippling teacher, who's lived in Africa, has some heavy-duty problems and does not take an immediate liking to the Sanders character. (This interesting actress has a lovely moment -- shown below -- on a rooftop late in the movie, as she explains what it was that god "told" her. )

Much that we see and hear, however, is laid out before us, as though from a textbook -- which is a pretty good description of the movie itself. Some of the more interesting scenes -- they have at least immediacy and action -- occur between Sanders and his classmates (one of these is shown at bottom), as he defends himself or attempts to persuade them of the good of integration and how it might fit in with their religious teaching. A later scene or two with Devane, as the not-quite-so pristine President attempts to back pedal, also registers with some force.

But the scenes between Sanders and Gossett are heavy-handed, and sometimes plain ignorant. Gossett's little sermon regarding the mistake Sanders made in punching out his father registered as utter BS to this particular viewer. (That father, shown in the flashback above, had a history of stealing money from his wife and beating bloody his own child. So, sure: Deck him, for Christ's sake.) Further, a last-minute "saving" of our hero from the bad guys is simply ridiculous: far too convenient and coincidental.  Buy this, and they'll be after you to buy that bridge in Brooklyn.

The Least Among You -- distributed by Lionsgate, it's out this week on DVD, available now for purchase or rental -- proclaims a sentimental faith, though perhaps that's what all faith is, if it must finally be found in the unknowable (or the self-created). The movie pushes this at the expense of reason, intelligence and choice, but if that's your cup of kool-aid, go for it.

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