By Christian DiMartino
The work of director Jared Hess has always had a similar feeling. Especially with Napoleon Dynamite and Gentlemen Broncos, they have this odd quirkiness to them that I find somewhat hard to resist. When you’re watching a Hess film (with the exception of the dismal Nacho Libre), we can always tell we’re watching a Hess film. About 20 seconds into his latest film, Don Verdean, I knew just what I was in store for.
Don Verdean is a hit-or-miss affair, as you might have guessed. But at least Hess is tampering with a topic that few comedies dare to: Religion. You could call this film offensive, as it doesn’t paint Christianity in the nicest light. But at times, particularly when it comes to radical, in-your-face Christians, the comedy can sort of sting.
The film also has a lot of faith that we won’t give up on the title character. Judging from the poor reviews, some probably did. But yet he is played by Sam Rockwell, an actor with such wonderful comedic timing. Without him, or the other members of the great cast, this material might have been insufferable.
Don Verdean (Rockwell) is a religious archaeologist, hell-bent on finding religious artifacts. He has a nice, soft spoken assistant (Amy Ryan), and a right-hand man (Jemaine Clement) who searches for things in Israel. Don treats both of them like crap, but yet they put up with it.
After a discovery goes wrong, Don feels as if he is past his time. So then, he decides that in order to stay in the spotlight, he must find a way in order to fabricate these discoveries. What do I mean? Well, for example, he rips off the head of a dead wrestler, and claims that it is the head of Goliath.
Danny McBride and Leslie Bibb show up as a couple who believes in Don’s work, even though it is completely ridiculous. Will Forte gets some good laughs as a rival preacher who knows damn well that Don is a fraud.
This is a comedy that not everyone will go for, and at times, I didn’t. But when the laughs work, it is pretty funny. It helps that all of these actors have been funny before, and know just how to deliver these ridiculous lines. I admit that, as a Christian, this movie is pretty risky, but I admired its risk.
Hess, who co-wrote the script with his wife, Jerusha, see comedic opportunity in painting these characters as crazy religious types. Should it work? Probably not, and at times it doesn’t. But even when Don Verdean isn’t funny, it is always amusing. Watching Don go to such extreme lengths is fun in itself.
Hess was supposed to have another film out this year called Masterminds, but it was pushed back a year. I was bummed. But for now, I guess Don Verdean will do.