Don Verdean

2015 comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A fraudulent archaeologist unearths Biblical relics in order to inspire the masses and strengthen the faith of church congregations. The head of a rival church and an unscrupulous pal help him dig a much deeper hole than he wanted.

"I'm here to tell you that each and every time you spoon into a bowl of Lucky Charms, you might as well be partaking of Lucifer's sacrament."

This is from Jared Hess but has a little more traditional conflict and structure than Napoleon Dynamite or Gentlemen Broncos. I think what I like about Hess's comedies is that the characters--in real life--would be so easy to poke fun at, yet the humor isn't really ever about poking fun. There's really nothing mean-spirited on the surface of Don Verdean even though I suppose you could say the screenplay is poking fun at religious zealots or blind faith. Instead, this is really the study of an unscrupulous character who may or may not have good intentions. You never really get a good idea of what Verdean--played by the ubiquitous Sam Rockwell--is really up to, whether original good intentions have somehow evolved into something selfish, or even if the guy ever had any good intentions at all. The developing out-of-control mess he finds himself in isn't anything that's going to cause anybody to feel sorry for the character. But it is funny.

Most of the funny comes from the writing, offbeat lines about Lucifer farting inside people's brains or promises that characters "will not return until [they] have Goliath's head in [their] carry-on" that can be expected from the guy who gave us Napoleon Dynamite. Dissing religion could easily feel like a fish-in-a-barrel thing, but the ideas in this are funny. The cast is also good at rolling with these quirky characters without transforming into something unbelievable. That's with one exception though. Jemaine Clement provides almost all of the best moments in this movie; however, his character is in the movie way too much. A little of Clement's weirdo, a character who reminds me of somebody Sacha Baron Cohen would have fun playing, goes a long way, and he needed to be an auxiliary character here. Will Forte and Danny McBride play dueling pastors, the former giving a great sermon about cereal that would really have made me think about my breakfast choices if I ever partook in the devil's gluten or dairy. Forte hisses and McBride whoops, both kind of magically. And I always enjoy watching Amy Ryan, too, probably because of her nose. Along with Lot's wife, Goliath's skull, and a Holy Grail, those characters make Rockwell's protagonist sort of slip into the background in his own movie. That's not a bad thing, and it's probably a tribute to Rockwell's subdued performance.

This movie doesn't seem to be popular with critics or regular people, but it made me laugh a few times. There are missteps for sure, and the storytelling isn't the best, but it's definitely worth watching if you like Hess's other quirky comedies.

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