From the creative minds that brought us films like Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre and Gentleman Broncos comes the next project from writing and directing power couple Jared and Jerusha Hess with a film simply called Don Verdean.
The filmfollows the exploits of biblical archaeologist Don Verdean (Sam Rockwell), a master on anything biblically historic in the name of the Lord. Can I get an amen? Boasting perhaps the best cast assembled in their short film careers the Hess's do the Lord justice. They cannot produce that IT factor for a film that had the potential to be one of the hit comedies of the summer. Rockwell does an amicable job as the title character, and I really think he understands how the Hesses operate when it comes to awkward comedy. They seem to have formed a pretty solid bond since working on Gentleman Broncos.
When it comes to poking fun at televangelist and biblical historians, this film could have gone to higher ground, but I think the script played it a bit safe in terms of content, and it's a real shame. For that reason, I felt a bit underwhelmed by the overall story. However, not all is lost because some of the jokes work thanks to a memorable performance by Jemaine Clement as Boaz, an Israeli Jew that acts as Verdean's right hand man during his quest to find the Holy Grail.
Anytime you make religious jokes you're bound to offend someone, but I think when you make an R-rated comedy you need to go all out or else you're just cheating yourself. I'm not saying it's an easy thing to juggle, but as filmmakers, if you have a vision and the content is toned down because of exterior sources you weaken the content and ultimately the fans suffer. That's exactly what happened with Don Verdean.
Danny McBride, Amy Ryan and Leslie Bibb round out the stellar cast in this one, but I felt cheated because the film seemed a bit too short; it could have benefited from 20 to 30 more minutes as some of the subplots were never resolved. I hope they release an unrated version or extended cut because the idea and story were very entertaining. The execution just missed the mark from being a real cult classic. Expect this film to be stuck in purgatory. Not quite good enough for the art crowd and too offensive to the religious crowd.
I really enjoy the Hesses' creative vision, but they didn't bring their best effort forward with Don Verdean. They are the real sinners here as they toned down their quirkiness, and it hurt their artistic process tremendously. Who knows, maybe Don will find their mojo at one of his archaeological excavation sites.