'Beyond the Mask': Film Review

Beyond the Mask Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Freestyle Releasing

Beyond the Mask Still - H 2015

History lessons and religious themes go down easily in this ambitious adventure movie 

A former mercenary for the British East India Company attempts to achieve spiritual salvtion helping America fight for its indepedence in this faith-based action-adventure film

Most faith-based films feature storylines revolving around crises of faith. But Chad Burns' historical swashbuckler is far more ambitious. Depicting the adventures of a former mercenary who renounces his evil ways and journeys to America where he helps fight for its independence in 1776, Beyond the Mask strives to be a historical action-adventure popcorn epic rivaling big-budget Hollywood productions. It doesn't really succeed, but it certainly earns points for ambition.

The film produced by the Christian-based Burns Family Studios (previously responsible for 2008's Pendragon: Sword of His Father) was initially given an on-demand platform release several months ago, opening at a record-setting 440-plus theaters. Based on that success, it's now being given a more conventional theatrical rollout.

The central character is Will Reynolds (Andrew Cheney), an assassin working for the British East India Company who in the film's early section is betrayed by his villainous employer Charles Kemp (John Rhys-Davies of Raiders of the Lost Ark fame) and escapes to the American colonies. There he pretends to be a vicar, managing to deliver reasonably convincing sermons and winning the (chaste) love of the beautiful Charlotte (Kara Killmer).

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Unfortunately for Reynolds, Charlotte's uncle turns out to be his former employer Kemp, who promptly exposes him when he arrives for an unexpected visit. Making a pact with God that he'll be a virtuous man if he can regain Charlotte's love, Reynolds decamps to Philadelphia where he becomes a protégé of Benjamin Franklin (Alan Madlane) and later, donning a Zorro-like mask, assumes the identity of the "Journeyman" fighting against the British. Along the way, he foils an assassination plot against George Washington, as well as his former company's scheme to blow up the Continental Congress and set him up as the fall guy.

"The colonies' very own Guy Fawkes!" declares one of the sinister plotters while twirling his imaginary moustache.

Audiences won't be surprised to find that Reynolds eventually achieves spiritual salvation and wins the heart of his beloved, although, unlike most films of this genre, the religious messages are delivered in relatively subtle, restrained fashion.

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Working with an obviously limited budget, director Burns does a reasonable job of re-creating the historical period with the aid of CGI and matte effects, although it was probably overreaching to depict Franklin's newfangled electricity as an incendiary tool. More problematically, the numerous action sequences are unconvincingly staged, with Reynolds at one point launching into martial arts moves that he presumably learned on a trip to the Far East.

And while Rhys-Davies makes for an ever-reliable villain, the two leads are fatally bland, with Cheney lacking the charisma to make us care about his reformed character and Killmer achieving little more than looking exceedingly pretty.

Still, the film represents a refreshing change of pace from the usual faith-based cinematic sermons masquerading as drama, and younger audiences may find it particularly engrossing while receiving an admittedly simplistic history lesson in the process.

Production: Burns Family Studios
Cast: Andrew Cheney, Kara Killmer, John Rhys-Davies, Adetokumboh M'Cormack, Steve Blackwood, Thomas D. Mahard, Alan Madlane
Director: Chad Burns
Screenwriters: Stephen Kendrick, Paul McCusker
Producer: Aaron Burns
Executive producer: Kiran Bhakta Joshi
Director of photography: Ethan Ledden
Production designer: Nicholas Burns
Editor: Mike Wech
Costume designer: Marilyn Burns
Composer: Jurgen Beck
Casting: Beverly Holloway

Rated PG-13, 103 minutes