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With such box-office successes as Facing the Giants, Fireproof and Courageous to their credit, there’s no denying that the Kendrick brothers have tapped into a deep market for faith-based films. Their latest effort, War Room, doesn’t stray far from their well-established template and should well succeed in attracting their literally faithful audiences, although its heavy-handed proselytizing and soap opera-ish storytelling will prove a turn-off to those who don’t pray on a daily basis.
Indeed, prayer is the main theme of the plot which involves the troubled marriage between real-estate broker Elizabeth (Priscilla C. Shirer, a prominent Christian speaker and author making her film debut) and Tony (T.C. Stallings), a successful pharmaceutical rep. Tony, so bulked-up that he appears to be dipping into his company’s steroids, has little use for his wife, telling a friend “I’m just tired of her,” and pays little attention to the couple’s adorable 10-year-old daughter Danielle (Alena Pitts).
Increasingly distraught over her husband’s emotional abuse, Elizabeth finds her life changed when she meets her latest client, Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie), an elderly widow who advises her that the only way she can mend her husband’s errant ways is by praying to God for help. And casual prayer isn’t enough; this must be focused, fervent prayer, offered on high from the right venue. What Elizabeth must do, as Miss Clara did, is set up a “war room,” which in Elizabeth’s case is her clothes closet, formerly the scene of her secret binge eating of potato chips.
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Tony, meanwhile, engages in a not-so-secret flirtation with a co-worker that seems poised to launch into an affair, and is ultimately revealed to be stealing from his employers. It isn’t hard to guess that by the film’s end he’ll have learned the errors of his ways thanks to his wife’s newfound religiosity.
It’s not so much the plot or themes of the film that’s the problem as the ham-fisted execution. Unintentional comic moments abound, such as when Elizabeth and Miss Clara are accosted by a knife-wielding mugger and the elderly woman refuses his demand for money, telling the assailant to put down his knife “in the name of Jesus,” which he promptly does. Folks, this is not a good strategy in real life.
Then there’s the scene in which Elizabeth, after a heartfelt address to God, suddenly turns her wrath on Satan, stepping outside of her home and shouting, “This house is under new management!” Or the tired running gag about her smelly feet, which at least has a thematic payoff with a climactic, not so subtly symbolic scene in which her reformed husband lovingly washes them. Or the left field moment in which Tony, having become ill during a romantic dinner with his would-be lover, apparently becomes convinced that Elizabeth is poisoning him and secretly switches their dinner plates.
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Endlessly stopping the action, such as it is, with deadly earnest sermons, most of them delivered in fiery fashion by Miss Clara, the screenplay by director Alex Kendrick and his brother Stephen never misses an opportunity to pound home its message. Tony’s reform — which includes confessing to his employees that he’s stolen drug samples worth thousands of dollars and volunteering to take part in his daughter’s double-dutch competition — is so sudden and extreme that it makes Scrooge’s transformation look subtle by comparison.
The film has a solidly professional visual sheen, and the performances are largely effective, with Abercrombie particularly enjoyable as the feisty oldster. But for all its good intentions, War Room, like so many films of its ilk, is strictly preaching to the choir.
Production: FaithStep Films, Affirm Films, Red Sky Studios, TriStar Pictures
Cast: Priscilla C. Shirer, T.C. Stallings, Karen Abercrombie, Beth Moore, Michael Jr., Jadin Harris, Tenae Downing, Alena Pitts
Director: Alex Kendrick
Screenwriters/producers: Alex Kendrick Stephen Kendrick
Director of photography: Bob Scott
Production designer: Katherine Tucker
Editor: Steve Hullfish
Composer: Paul Mills
Rated PG, 112 min.
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