2 September 2000 | lou-50
Let's go out and do some good
I attended an open house for the recently completed 97th Mormon Temple and was once again impressed by these 'true believers' - men and women of steadfast religious conviction (some would say, the product of communal brainwashing). But judging by "God's Army", an honest and down-to-earth depiction about Mormon conversion, you have to say the young members are far from being willing robots, ready to accept their faith. It took a lot of guts for writer, director, and star Richard Dutcher to make this mainstream religious feature that, on the whole, is both inspiring and entertaining. But in his quest for a wide audience, Dutcher has toned down the religious preaching and built up a story about multi-ethnic characters in the heathen Los Angeles. Devoid of some proselytizing however, we don't fully appreciate the Mormon beliefs nor their missionary work. The various conflicts in the story and their syrupy resolutions also lent themselves more to the "Touched by an Angel" TV series. That being said, "God's Army" has several good points. The humor is both refreshing and yet self-directed: in their pristine mission quarters, the men have a posted cockroach board with specimen and species identification; Elder Sandoval boosts himself above a railing to face the famous Hollywood sign as he delivers his salvation message even as his fellow missionaries are throwing pieces of food at him; and the house antic is to take pictures of fellow missionaries sitting on the commode. The acting (mostly first-timers) is surprisingly good, especially the genuine chemistry between Elder Dalton (Dutcher) the mentor and Elder Allen (Matthew Brown) the student. In their shared dialogues, we learn much about a disciplined lifestyle that will lead to personal growth and salvation. It isn't afraid to air out dirty laundry in discussing issues of black bigotry and dissent to the Book of Mormons. It shares with us flawed characters trying to overcome their barriers - Elder Allen raised by a stepfather who baptized him to the Mormon faith and later landed in prison for child molesting, Sister Fronk unable to commit to a Mormon suitor because of her inadequate faith, and Elder Kinegar who could not overcome his religious disbeliefs. "God's Army" isn't a film for everyone because in witnessing men and women struggling to understand their faith and commitment, we are bound to ask ourselves the same questions.