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A sharp and funny satire about self-proclaimed spiritual gurus, Steven Chester Prince‘s directorial debut presents the story of a cynical man who undergoes his own spiritual crisis while becoming sizzling hot on the lecture circuit. Giving veteran actor Billy Burke (the Twilight films, CBS’s summer hit series Zoo) his best role to date, Divine Access, recently seen at the Portland Film Festival, deserves wider exposure.
Burke plays Jack Harriman, a scruffy, middle-aged slacker whose life revolves around bedding available women and diving off his home’s balcony for early morning skinny-dips in a lake. His life changes dramatically when he’s asked by his friend Bob (Patrick Warburton, comically droll as ever) to appear on his public access talk show “Divine Access,” hosted by the Reverend Guy Roy David (a creepily amusing and intense Gary Cole). Bob’s secret agenda is to have the ever acerbic Jack humiliate the reverend on the air so it’ll be easier to fire him.
Jack unwittingly fulfills his mission, but in the process gains a following thanks to his plain-speaking, common sense philosophizing style. Attracting salacious photos and come-ons from female fans throughout the South, he takes up Bob’s suggestion of a promotional road trip. When he inadvertently lays hands on an acolyte who promptly collapses in religious fervor, a video of the incident becomes a viral sensation. It also serves to introduce him to Nigel (Joel David Moore), a “catcher” of similarly afflicted people at tent revival meetings who joins Jack’s tour.
Among the other figures who pop up along the way are Amber (Dora Madison), a down-on-her-luck prostitute, and the ethereal Marian (Sarah Shahi), who periodically engages Jack in religious debate and who may or may not be a figment of his imagination.
Even as Jack becomes increasingly uncomfortable with his increasing fame—when he saves a choking man via the Heimlich maneuver, the would-be victim declares that he’s been “raised from the dead”–Reverend Guy is going off the rails. Frequently and heatedly speaking to a Jesus puppet he totes around and addresses as “Mini-Jesus,” he becomes obsessed with getting revenge on Jack, the man he blames for causing his professional demise. It all leads up to a fateful encounter between the two men during one of Jack’s heavily attended outdoor lectures.
Director Prince has problems maintaining a consistent tone, and the film’s Christian symbolism, with Jack as a reluctant, modern-day Jesus, gets a bit heavy-handed at times, especially in the final section. But the film has a lot going for it, from Burke’s complexly drawn, world-weary performance to the fine efforts from the supporting cast (Adrienne Barbeau also shows up briefly, as Jack’s loving mom) to the witty screenplay co-written by the director with Michael Zagst and John O’Connell. Addressing its serious themes with subtle and insightful humor, Divine Access is a quiet gem.
Production: The Traveling Picture Show Company in association with G-Men Media and Blackball Entertainment
Cast: Billy Burke, Gary Cole, Patrick Warburton, Joel David Moore, Dora Madison, Sarah Shahi, Adrienne Barbeau
Director: Steven Chester Prince
Screenwriters: Michael Zagst, John O’Connell, Steven Chester Prince
Producers: Carissa Buffel, Kevin Matusow, Billy Burke, Terry G. Jones, Steven Chester Prince
Executive producers: Clay Glendenning, Jeffrey Way
Director of photography: Julie Kirkwood
Production designer: Wiley Fowler
Editor: Kinda Marra
Costume designer: Arami Carrales
Composer: Casey McPherson
Casting: Michelle Lewitt
Not rated, 106 min.
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