The words excruciating and crucifixion are related. It's easy to see why when you read the reviews of Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ.

Critics find themselves divided. Some applaud the portrayal of Jesus' final twelve hours while others are throwing rotten tomatoes. Nevertheless, they would all agree that watching it is an excruciating experience. For many, seeing Jesus' torments vividly, graphically and relentlessly illustrated only serves to heighten their appreciation of Christ's love for humankind. For others, Gibson's hyper-realistic violence is gratuitous, an act of cruelty carried out upon the audience by an agenda-driven, heavy-handed, insensitive director.

In this column, I first shared news about the film on August 19, 2002. There has been news on an almost weekly basis ever since. Film Forum readers even shared their suggestions on how to make a good Jesus movie. It has been a long and painful process, monitoring the debates, the mudslinging, the defense, and the speculation. So it is with a sense of relief that I am glad to finally share a few thoughts on the finished work, and links to the responses of other critics as well.

Now that I've seen the film, I find myself with a foot in each of the two critics' camps. The Passion of The Christ has commendable strengths, but it has flaws as well. Gibson's film is not The Fifth Gospel—it is a work of art by a human being. Thus, it is not sacrilegious to point out the work's weaknesses. (Critics who consider it imperfect are sure to receive angry letters, as though their comments about artistry are directed at the gospel itself instead of the way this version is illustrated.)

Gibson includes the basic events of Christ's last hours, and adheres remarkably well to the dialogue and descriptions in the Gospels. Thus, his film is powerful. How could any decent account of the events on Calvary fail to move audiences? The way the director and star of Braveheart weaves together Christ's suffering with flashbacks to earlier events creates interesting juxtapositions. At each stage of Jesus' torture, we are reminded that he prophesied these very events and that he willingly and courageously gave himself up to them. With every new stage in his anguish, we are reminded that these punishments come as a response to his teachings about love and turning the other cheek. Each blow struck by the enemy is the antithesis of the sort of power the Son of God endorsed.

But Gibson's lack of attention to other chapters in Christ's life does indeed pose challenges to viewers—especially those who do not know the gospel story. We receive only glimpses of the Sermon on the Mount and the Last Supper. We are given no reference to how Christ entered the world. Each audience member is left to seek out the missing pieces and put together what it all means. Will they? That depends. It is possible that the anxiety and exhaustion they experience viewing the film will give some of them an aversion to exploring Christ's life any more deeply. Others may be inspired to investigate.

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In The Passion, the path from the garden of Gethsemane to the cross is such a marathon of bloodshed—Jesus is beaten and bloodied even before he leaves the garden—that I found myself a bit dizzy from the violence only an hour into the film. It became harder and harder to focus on what the director was trying to reveal concerning Christ's teachings and his love.

Any decent human being portrayed in physical agony will draw an audience's sympathies. I left wanting to know more about this suffering figure. I wanted to see more about what made him distinct. Seeing so much brutality, my emotional responses went numb, and I was merely watching, wondering what kind of body cast the actor Jim Caveziel was wearing in order to make it appear that barbed whips were ripping chunks out of his flesh. Endless cracks of the whips, the wearying mockery of the tormenters, and the numerous sequences that show Jesus collapsing in every imaginable way made me wish the film had a different editor.

Gibson is the sort of filmmaker for whom the image of a dead donkey being devoured by maggots is not merely a subtle accent that suggests corruption. No, he gives us long close-ups on that decomposing corpse, so that even the most distracted or hard-hearted viewer will be sure to squirm. His tendency toward excessive force interferes with his attempts at visual poetry. The realism of the portrayal is indeed impressive, but it comes at the cost of thoughtful storytelling. Flannery O'Connor said that for deaf audiences, a storyteller must shout. Contemporary audiences may indeed be somewhat deaf to the story of Christ, but I would add that if you shout too loud and too much, you'll only further cripple your audience and bring your credibility into question.

Let's move on—there is more to examine here than violence.

Let us be done with the question of anti-Semitism in this film. The bloodthirsty Roman soldiers abuse Jesus and his faithful Jewish followers, using the word "Jew" as an expletive. Clearly, Gibson's sympathies lie with the persecuted Jew, his mother and his companions, and those who would persecute an entire people are clearly monsters. No one would admire or feel any sympathy for these beastly soldiers. It is true that Jewish religious leaders are portrayed as calling for Christ's crucifixion, but that is not cause for anti-Semitism. That is a warning about the dangers of religious power—in any religion, even Christianity.

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Several prominent Jewish characters are shown having deep sympathy for Christ. In fact, Simon of Cyrene, one of the few supporting characters given any sort of personality or character, has an even more inspiring task here than the Gospels describe. During the long march to Golgotha, he develops a wordless, intimate bond with the Savior that becomes one of the film's most resonant and beautiful highlights.

Aside from the film's firm scriptural foundation, Caleb Deschanel's cinematography is The Passion's greatest strength. His mastery of light and darkness, his careful framing of panoramic pain captures some of the most breathtaking religious imagery ever filmed. Experienced in smaller doses, I would find any section of this film deeply moving on that basis alone.

It helps that Deschanel has such talented actors to film. Jim Caviezel's commitment to showing us a convincing Jesus Christ is unnerving in its intensity. Not only does he speak Christ's words in Aramaic as though he grew up with the language, giving us the feeling of time travel back to the real events, but his physical manifestation of Christ's internal turmoil is as compelling as the blows his body suffers. Acting his way through layers of makeup and special effects, he communicates Jesus' immeasurable restraint. We can see in him, and in the amazement and dismay of his followers, that Christ is holding back, refusing to indulge his heavenly influence to save himself. This Jesus speaks volumes through the silent gazes he shares with his faithful, especially Mary.

Romanian actress Maia Morgenstern is a strong, believable, sympathetic Mary. The intuitive mother/son bond between her and Christ plays more intensely than I have ever imagined it. In one moment, when Christ pauses, exhausted from carrying the cross and yet having only just begun, he turns to her and groans, "You see, Mother, how I make all things new?" It is a moment loaded with irony and anguish. And yet he speaks the truth—his endurance of crucifixion will transform the abuse, making it possible for his followers to suffer persecution while never losing grasp of their faith and their hope.

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In one of Gibson's few truly inventive choices, Mary's grief, suffering, and love are mocked by the most sinister Satan that audiences have ever seen, an androgynous figure who can only mock and lie, a warped mirror that distorts everything good, including, in one horrifying instance, traditional images of Mary cradling the Christ child. Actress Rosalinda Celentano brings to life a truly alien presence, something that does not belong in a world God has made, something that exists solely to destroy.

Hristo Naumov Shopov's performance as Pilate is also worthy of note. The Pilate of the script by Gibson and co-writer Benedict Fitzgerald does not demonstrate the cruelty that history attributes to the figure. But Shopov gives us the Pilate of the Gospels, a man desperate to rid himself of any matters concerning the Jewish law and the brusque, manipulative religious leaders. Pilate's quiet intelligence, fear, insecurity, and sympathy for this innocent, accused man are a fascinating confusion as he interrogates Christ and weighs his options.

The rest of the characters are disappointingly flat. There's nothing memorable about Peter, who merely gapes, denies, and cowers. John remains misty-eyed and solemn. Mary Magdalene, presented as the woman caught in adultery (a tradition in Christian art, but not a detail of Scripture), remains marginal, notable only for the way Monica Bellucci's beauty stands out in a crowd of despairing onlookers.

But there is one monumentally disappointing detail in Gibson's finished product. It is painful to imagine what might have happened had the music been written by a great composer. When Gibson showed early versions of the film, before the soundtrack was finished, he reportedly "borrowed" tracks from The Last Temptation of Christ's soundtrack-music by Peter Gabriel. While Last Temptation was condemned as a blasphemous film by most Christian moviegoers, its soundtrack is a masterpiece, a highly original fusion of differing styles, ancient and contemporary, from several different nations. Now that we have Gibson's final cut, we discover that composer John Debney turned in something that sounds like musical plagiarism. Those familiar with Gabriel's album Passion, the stand-alone symphony that grew out of his Last Temptation soundtrack, may find themselves frequently distracted, as I was. The themes and flourishes here are so similar that some will swear it's exactly the same music. It would only have been fair to credit Gabriel's influence.

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In the end, it is hard to know whether or not to recommend The Passion of The Christ. And, if it is recommendable, to whom do we recommend it? These vivid images are clearly Gibson's version of the Passion. Most Christians would say they have a picture of Christ that has come to them through their own encounters with the text. Some may wish to preserve the version they have imagined while reading the Gospels, rather than allow these blunt, bloody images to burn indelibly into their minds.

Others may want to steer clear—teenagers and adults alike—because it is entirely possible to understand and appreciate Christ's sacrifice without having to swallow a blow-by-blow account of the destruction of his body. So rather than dissuade readers from attending the film, I'd encourage them to ignore "Christian peer pressure." Weigh heavily whether you are prepared, and whether you can maintain a sense of critical discernment as you watch. One Christian critic suggested that those who avoid the film because of its violence share the cowardice of the disciples who fled the scene. That is a ridiculous claim. Avoiding the film may, for some, be the braver choice.

It is worth noting that, while Protestants are enthusiastically embracing the film, it is a Catholic work through and through, from its adherence to the Stations of the Cross to its reverent attention to Mary's experience of the ordeal. These aspects of it impressed Catholic film critic Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films). "The film is an imaginative, at times poetic reflection on the meaning of the gospel story in light of sacred tradition and Catholic theology," he writes. "[It is] a preeminently important cinematic expression of the faith—probably one of the most important religious films of all time."

Greydanus, whose review impressed Roger Ebert so much that he quoted it in his own review, also addresses the issue of anti-Semitism in the film.

Elsewhere, Andrew Coffin (World Magazine) calls the film a "powerful, emotionally wrenching viewing." But he also argues that the film's limited focus on the "passion" is both a strength and a limitation. "It may be best to liken The Passion to a painting of Christ by one of the old masters. Rendered in vivid detail, these works of art focus the mind and imagination on one aspect of Christ's life (very often the crucifixion), but lack the context and completeness to be anything more than one piece of the whole."

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Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "Mel Gibson is an accomplished filmmaker—one with an obvious and established artistic vision. God bless him. There are minor points with which I might find disagreement. But regarding the overall thrust of the film—what Jesus Christ had to do to redeem us—I can find no fault."

Steven Isaac and Bob Smithouser (Plugged In) call it "a stirring, reverent and significant motion picture for believers and nonbelievers alike." They also quote Dr. James Dobson as naming it "among the most powerful and important [films] ever made."

Isaac and Smithouser encourage parents to take their teenagers to the film. "Many teens ride the coattails of their parents' faith, only to waver when pressures and temptations arrive. They need to make a conscious decision to own their faith. The Passion is the kind of 'fish or cut bait' movie that will challenge them to make a firm decision about what they believe and how they will live."

Phil Boatwright (Movie Reporter) says it is "justly rated R" for its violent content. "But Gibson wisely cuts to past moments in Christ's life to help us cope with the brutality. The Passion … is meant to shock, unnerve and clarify the ordeal of Christ's sacrifice. It is not a movie one sees, then goes out for pizza. Mel Gibson uses the medium of film as Michelangelo did with stone, chiseling away superficiality and carving out a cinematic masterpiece. This Passion stirs the soul."

Mainstream critics are divided over the film, a phenomenon that seems to accompany any artistic expression of the gospel. Here are a few revealing excerpts:

David Poland (The Hot Button): "I am not shy about movie violence. And, almost embarrassingly, I have to admit that Gibson's excesses left me feeling very little after a very short period of time. But it wasn't just the gore. It was the lack of real conviction. It is almost always a sign that a discussion is lost when one of the parties has to resort to yelling … and it is usually the person who is screaming who has lost. Gibson screams at the top of his lungs through 80% of this movie. Unfortunately, I feel like I have as much additional insight into Christ after seeing this film as I did about heroin abuse after seeing Pulp Fiction or into police work after seeing Lethal Weapon. And that ain't much."

Gene Seymour (Newsday): "Mel Gibson shows once again that he's skilled at depicting violence. But you'd be hard pressed to find evidence of 'tolerance, love and forgiveness' that the producer-director-co-writer insists he's trying to communicate." (Did Seymour miss the scene in which Jesus heals the ear of his attacker? Did he miss Jesus words of forgiveness for his persecutors? Did he miss the way Christ refrained from striking back at his enemies, dying so he could rise again?)

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David Denby (The New Yorker): "The movie Gibson has made from his personal obsessions is a sickening death trip, a grimly unilluminating procession of treachery, beatings, blood, and agony."

Roger Ebert praised the film on his television show and in his Chicago Sun-Times review, and spoke respectfully and honorably about the gospel message.

So, at last, The Passion is playing to audiences. It will be interesting to see how it fares with audiences after the throngs of churchgoers have finished their theater buy-outs. It will also be interesting to see if the entirely deserving work of Caleb Deschanel and Jim Caveziel is remembered a year from now, at Oscar time.

And speaking of the Oscars …

The Academy Awards will be handed out on Sunday night. You can read my predictions here.

There has never been a fantasy or a science fiction film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. E.T.The Extra-Terrestrial, Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Wizard of Oz … none of them took the revered honor. But that may change on Sunday night. And what better fantasy to set precedent than the granddaddy of all fantasy epics—J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings? The third chapter, The Return of the King, is heavily favored to take home the top prize. If it does, there will be many reasons to applaud.

You may agree with me, that Peter Jackson's film is not the most artful film of the year. Its script is the most sentimental and heavy-handed of the three chapters, and the gaping holes in the storytelling—caused as much by deliberate revisions as by necessary abridgement—make it a fairly bumpy ride.

But the film's strengths are many, its technical achievements are unparalleled, and, most importantly, it is a far greater contribution to film history than any of its competitors (especially its only real challenger—Mystic River, which boasts the participation of several Hollywood favorites.) Further, Rings has meant so much to audiences during this time of wars and rumors of wars. It has offered tangible hope and meaningful metaphors. Where so many other tales of conflict have urged us to place our hopes in might and individualism, it has highlighted the importance of humility, grace, fellowship, longsuffering, and Christ-like sacrifice.

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The Lord of the Rings franchise may finally convince Oscar that there is as much validity and relevance in imaginative storytelling as in the realism that so easily impresses the voters.

Oscar-nominated The Return challenges viewers

What happens when two young brothers come home one day to find their father, missing for more than a decade, has come home? Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev makes his directorial debut with The Return, a story about a mysterious disappearance and an even more mysterious reappearance. Vanya and Andrey (Ivan Dobronravov and Vladimir Garin) are siblings with serious differences in their response to the homecoming—one refuses to respect the grouchy old man, while the other shows a willingness to forgive and even to obey.

Gerri Pare (Catholic News Service) says, "For those who prefer their movies to offer neatly wrapped-up narratives, The Return won't offer much of a return for the investment, but it's possible to look beyond the melancholy story and appreciate the incisive character studies. The story suggests biblical dimensions of good and evil and the unwelcoming landscapes and choppy waters add to the thriller-like atmosphere of foreboding and dread that populate this chilly, enigmatic tale."

Mainstream critics are praising The Return and the Academy has nominated it for Best Foreign Film. We'll see how it fares on Sunday.

Spine-tingling true-life suspense in Touching the Void

Several recent "reality films" have won raves from critics, many of whom heralded 2003 as the "Year of the Documentary." 2004 looks like it will continue the trend, and the first highly praised documentary of the year is Touching the Void. Featuring dramatic re-creations and in-depth interviews, Kevin Macdonald's film narrates the suspenseful, astonishing tale of two ambitious mountain climbers—Joe Simpson and Simon Yates. They recount their challenging ascent of Peru's Siula Grande in 1985, a devastating life-and-death decision, and a story of seemingly impossible survival.

Stef Loy (The Matthews House Project) says, "'The Void' in the film's title could represent death, or the dark shaft of icy underworld Joe must eventually lower himself into in order to save himself. It could also represent the mental hallucinatory state that took over when Joe's psychological facilities started going haywire. Whatever 'the Void' is—and it's probably many things—it's a chance for a man to reach outside himself for something or someone to deliver him. For Joe, the only thing that keeps him going is his desire to not die alone. The void gives voice to the sound a soul makes when pressed and pinned to the point of implosion."

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Jerry Langford (Movieguide) says, "Their story would be unbelievable as fiction, yet [is] honestly chronicled in this convincing documentary. It will grip your sense of wonder and imagination as powerfully as an ice axe driven into a glacier wall. Watching these men struggle to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds is tremendously inspiring." But Langford criticizes it for the inclusion of "harsh language and numerous profanities." He also gives the film bad marks for including one of the climbers' confession that he does not believe in God. (Heaven forbid moviegoers learn that there are atheists in the world!)

My Architect offers a revealing tribute to an audacious architect

My Architect, another of this year's Oscar-nominated documentaries, is Nathaniel Kahn's exploration of the life and work of the father who abandoned him—famed architect Louis Kahn. Through interviews and investigation, he learns a great deal about his father and about the many lives the celebrated man damaged through selfish decisions and lies. He also considers the way that injury can contribute to passion and even to great achievement.

J. Robert Parks (Phantom Tollbooth) says, "I found Bob Richman's spectacular cinematography to be worth the price of admission. He has the amazing ability to convey the three-dimensional splendor of Kahn's architecture with a two-dimensional piece of film. The movie's final reel, which features Kahn's awe-inspiring Capitol in Dhaka, Bangladesh, made me want to jump on a plane to visit it first-hand."

Jerry Langford (Movieguide) says, "The story of My Architect is a cautionary tale for all viewers. Where was he going when he died? What is his legacy? These are questions intended for every individual. As result, [the movie] is a probing and thoughtful look at the measure of a man."

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen tries critics' patience

Actress Lindsay Lohan (Freaky Friday) plays Lola, a teenager prone to exaggeration and melodrama, in Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. In Lola's way of living life, everything from her wardrobe to her past is material for embellishment. But when her family leaves the sights and sounds of New York City for suburban New Jersey, she has to make an impression in a new school. Soon, she's competing with the most popular girl in the class, Carla (Megan Fox), for the lead role in a school production of Pygmalion.

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"The film deals with the pressures teen girls face concerning clothes, music, and trying to fit in—but very superficially," says Phil Boatwright (Movie Reporter). "This hasn't the depth of Ghost World or the intensity of Thirteen. Indeed, Disney Studios is copying itself, for it has the same look and feel of it's own Lizzie McGuire." He also notes that this fifteen-year-old and her friends seem to appear a bit too … uh … mature. "And both the camera and the wardrobe department were bent on accentuating these girls' burgeoning adulthood."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "Lohan … plays Lola with energy to spare. It is a performance that will no doubt appeal to the preteens and 'tweenies' in the audience, but may grow tiresome for everyone else. Being in the presence of a drama queen may be amusing at first but it gets old very quickly."

He describes the film as "mild … by today's standards," and notes that "wrong behavior is punished, parents are shown as being concerned and caring for their children, and lessons are learned by those who need to learn them."

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) writes, "Lohan's effervescent elan makes the formulaic ride enjoyable. [Confessions] examines the pressures many teens experience in trying to gain acceptance from their peers. The film tries to counterbalance such conformist tendencies by encouraging a healthy respect for what makes each person unique, and by imparting the dare-to-be-different message that peer approval should never come at the cost of losing one's self-identity."

Bob Waliszewski (Plugged In) has reservations about Lola's tendency toward reckless invention. He appreciates some of the lessons learned. "Since her story tackles subjects like teenage insecurity, self-esteem, friendship, jealousy, honesty and alcoholism without embracing the vices of vulgarity, violence and sex, mothers (and dads) who decide their teen girls (just try to get guys to go!) need to see this drama queen preen will certainly be able to turn a trip to the theater into an opportunity to discuss deeper issues."

Nicole LeBlanc (Christian Spotlight) says, "Somehow I left this movie thinking that only the surface of character development and plot had been scratched. The slapstick comedy and humor were sometimes overplayed and just not funny." She's also displeased with its message: "Lola's worldly desires may seem selfish and childish at times, but they are the center of the whole film and are not rebuked."

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Mainstream critics consider this confession very dismaying indeed.

Is Meg Ryan's career Against the Ropes?

Sometimes, a film's story is overshadowed by the transparent agenda of those who worked on it. Several critics are finding that they cannot discuss the film Against the Ropes without pointing out Meg Ryan's attempts to transform her career and her image, following a track that resembles Julia Roberts' career. In Against the Ropes, this veteran of romantic comedies takes on a challenging dramatic role where she must play an assertive professional in a male-dominated industry (boxing) who dresses flamboyantly and works overtime to make a difference in her field … a lot like Erin Brockovich.

Unfortunately, Ryan's latest choices have so far been poorly received. She starred in the heavily criticized psychological thriller In the Cut a few months ago, and Against the Ropes is not faring much better in the reviews.

J. Robert Parks (Phantom Tollbooth) calls Meg Ryan's performance "a barely-concealed imitation of Erin Brockovich. It's hard to believe Against the Ropes is based on a true story, as the story so perfectly matches a typical Hollywood flick. I guess life does imitate art. As with most bad movies, we have a standing ovation at the end, and you shouldn't have to guess who it's for."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "[Ryan's] characterization is roughly drawn and the script does not allow the actress to build smooth transitions. There's no real sense of excitement or tension to the fights themselves and the final bout relies more on boxing film cliché s than anything else."

Phil Boatwright (Movie Reporter) says, "Despite being formulaic, and though one must suspend disbelief at Kewpie-doll Meg Ryan as a boxing manager, and for sure the script reduces the characters to caricatures, still, with all these shortcomings, I enjoyed most of Against the Ropes."

Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk) posts an interview with director Charles Dutton, and tells us that he hopes the film will encourage viewers to think "about freedom and sacrifice—and how we choose to use it in our own lives."

Sheri McMurray (Christian Spotlight) says, "It's all formula, corny most of the time, but manages to keep our attention even though we all know that the 'Rocky-esque' fight scene is coming at the big finish." She notes that the film emphasizes the importance of "trust, commitment, hard/honest work, and being humble enough to admit our wrongdoings." But she concludes, "My warning would be NOT to see this film because of the profanity and promotion of violence."

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Ryan is not scoring many hits with mainstream critics.

Hollywood gives Ray Romano a chance with Welcome to Mooseport

Gene Hackman stars in Welcome to Mooseport, playing an ex-president who runs for mayor in a small town, only to find himself facing off against an impassioned opponent, the local plumber (Ray Romano). The rivalry is fueled by the politician's flirtations with the plumber's girlfriend (Maura Tierney.)

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) calls it "a pleasant if uninspired comedy. Director Donald Petrie and screenwriter Tom Schulman don't break any new ground here. They keep the film rather simple, playing to the strengths of their leads."

Bob Smithouser (Plugged In) says the film "has heart, a moral compass and an affection for the people onscreen … including the 'bad guy.' It's a comely comedy that campaigns hard for personal integrity. By today's PG-13 standards, families could do a lot worse. Had it reined in the profanity and sexual intimations—and eliminated the streaker altogether—it could have earned a PG and a recommendation."

"While it makes some witty observations about the electoral process and the media's scrutiny of candidates' private lives," says David DiCerto (Catholic News Service), "the film fails to make good on its campaign promise of comedy. In fact what starts out as a promising premise ends up as politics as usual—early expectations quickly deflated."

Phil Boatwright (Movie Reporter) says, "The premise had promise. But this script isn't smart, let alone satirical. Mr. Romano should have brought his TV-writers, because this narrative contains the lamest comic dialogue since Dumb and Dumberer. This material is beneath all those associated with this production.

Ed Cox (Christian Spotlight) is not impressed either. "Billed as a comedy, offered as a high tension 'who's gonna win the election, girl, etc.', it misses both marks badly. A lame movie might still be able to walk out of the theater; this one had to have help."

Mainstream critics are not terribly impressed with Ray Romano's big screen debut (although he did a fine job as a wooly mammoth in the animated Ice Age.) Looks like he'll be staying on TV until a better film comes along.

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More reviews of recent titles: House of Sand and Fog, Barbershop 2, Capturing the Friedmans

Ron Reed (The Matthews House Project) calls House of Sand and Fog "a film that sticks with you. It is rich and intricate, and the more you reflect on its specifics, the more its meaning and mysteries present themselves."

He comments on the nightmare that develops as the characters make desperate, misguided choices that set in motion devastating consequences. "It is frightening to think our fates are in the hands of ineluctable natural forces or vengeful gods. When we consider that perhaps our own choices, and the choices of the people around us, are just as inevitably shaped by the darknesses in our hearts, that fear is compounded into real horror—the threat is so close at hand, so undeniable. Some actions will bring destruction, darkness will flow out of us—from our pride and prevarications, from our weakness and addictions, from our disrespect and disregard, from our certainty that we know how things should be and our blind willingness to do all we can to make them so, whatever the cost."

After seeing Barbershop 2: Back in Business, Kevin Miller (Relevant) calls it "muddled, directionless and rehashed."

Victor Morton (The Matthews House Project) reviews the troubling documentary Capturing the Friedmans and says it "somehow manages to be, all at the same time—a case study of a terrible miscarriage of justice; a mind-dizzying game on narrative and expectations (its twists truly rival Memento); two father-son love stories; a family meltdown (there are scenes of family quarrels that play like early John Cassavetes or Ingmar Bergman); and a meditation on knowledge and the will to believe."

Next week: The Oscars … Was it a coronation for Tolkien's King? And The Passion … Will its uncompromising portrayal translate into box office success?