'The Resurrection of Gavin Stone': Film Review

Courtesy of BH Tilt
This genial religious-themed dramedy is refreshingly lacking in preachiness.

A washed-up former child star plays the role of Jesus in a megachurch stage production in Dallas Jenkins' inspirational comedy.

Dallas Jenkins’ dramedy about a washed-up actor who learns the error of his ways through being exposed to religion doesn’t have an original cinematic bone in its body. But it’s also refreshingly genial and lacking in preachiness for a faith-based film, demonstrating that a lighter touch doesn’t necessary dilute the obvious messaging. Improbably numbering WWE Studios among its producing entities, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone should satisfy its target heartland audience.

At the story’s beginning, the title character, played by Brett Dalton (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D), is at a low point in his life. The former childhood star of a hit sitcom who even had his own famous catchphrase — “Don’t look at me!” — his career has stalled and his hard-drinking, hard-partying ways have resulted in his being sentenced to 200 hours of community service for trashing a hotel rooftop bar.

Gavin winds up fulfilling his obligations at a megachurch in his suburban Illinois hometown, where’s he’s given janitorial duties by the affable pastor (D.B. Sweeney). But when he notices that the church is putting on a lavish theatrical production about Jesus, Gavin auditions for, and wins, the title role. In the process, he lies and tells the show’s director, Kelly (Anjelah Johnson-Reyes), who also happens to be the pastor’s daughter, that he’s Christian.

Initially flip and condescending, Gavin becomes increasingly fond of the churchgoers and committed to his performance. He and Kelly also develop a mutual attraction, although their romance is strictly of the chaste variety. But he’s faced with a crisis of conscience when Hollywood beckons with a comeback role in a TV series that requires him to leave town just before the show is about to open Moviegoers won’t receive any extra points for guessing correctly as to how it all turns out.

For a purported comedy, there’s a striking absence of real laughs in Andrea Gyertson Nasfell’s (Mom’s Night Out) screenplay which instead relies on predictable situations and characterizations. It also shamelessly features a scene in which Gavin communicates via sign language to a hearing-impaired young girl, none too subtly suggesting his innate decency.

But it all goes down easily enough, thanks to Jenkins’ low-key direction and the appealing performances by not only the leads, but also supporting players like Neil Flynn (Scrubs, The Middle) as Gavin’s disapproving dad, and former professional wrestler Shawn Michaels as a good-hearted auto mechanic. Less religious-minded viewers may, however, become impatient with the film’s soberly serious inclusion of lengthy excerpts from the church’s passion play featuring Gavin as a typically hunky, shirtless Jesus.

Production: WWE Studios, BH Tilt, Walden Media, Vertical Church Films
Distributor: High Top Releasing
Cast: Brett Dalton, Anjelah Johnson-Reyes, Neil Flynn, D.B. Sweeney, Shawn Michaels, Tim Frank
Director: Dallas Jenkins
Screenwriter: Andrea Gyertson Nasfell
Producers: Michael J. Luisi, Fred Adams
Executive producers: James MacDonald, Alix Taylor, Jason Blum
Director of photography: Lyn Moncrief
Production designer: James R. Cunningham
Editor: Kenneth Marsten
Composer: Jeehun Hwang
Rated PG, 91 min.