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Failings put 'Screen Door' on list of might-have-been great films
By Mark Moorehead

December 3, 2005

Itís probably extreme to juxtapose Screen Door Jesus with the religion-themed Left Behind series. After all, Screen Door Jesus is simply a satirical look at old-fashioned Bible Belt religion and all the flavors it comes in. Nevertheless, by design it shuts out and offends those most likely to benefit from any redeeming message it may have.

First, the script contains enough raw language to make a Unitarian blush. Second, the film barely conceals its disdain for organized religion by mocking its differences and asking glibly, ďWhy canít we all be nice and get along?Ē And third, by pouring too many characters and subplots into the film, director Kirk Davis obscures the very device that drives the story: the likeness of Jesus suddenly appearing on a screen door.

Davis begins the film with an intriguing premise: how does the likeness of Jesus on something as innocuous as a screen door affect the lives of those who see it? This phenomenon of religious images discovered on ordinary surfaces such as an underpass in Chicago or on a piece of toast recently auctioned off on e-bay are reminders of the power these images have on believers.

These sightings receive wide attention, too. On NBCís Today show this week, Matt Lauer went live to a crowd standing in front of a statue of the Madonna outside a church in Sacramento, Calif. Dark tears were running from her eyes, and those present insisted this miracle was a sign that something bad was coming soon.

Crash is a better example of a film that successfully uses a life-altering event such as an automobile accident to illustrate how the ripples from that experience affect the lives of total strangers in profound ways. Then it ties those lives together with interesting results. As a plot device Crash provides the perfect vehicle to deliver Screen Door Jesus to the masses. Unfortunately for us, Davis used Robert Altmanís movie Short Cuts as his model, one punctuated with mini stories and rife with challenges.

However, in Davisís defense, he does demonstrate the effects the image of Jesus had on a few of his characters, albeit not in an entirely coherent manner.

For example, Davis traces how the face on the screen door affected the owner of the home where the hoopla initially began. She happens to be a devout Christian woman. Her front yard becomes a shrine and the chanting crowd never leaves. Her evolving relationship with the door opens with hysterical enthusiasm, swings into grudging acceptance, and ends with her slamming the door shut with outright anger and indignation.

Other characters include a guilt-ridden, wildcat oil driller (he accidentally killed his partner), two young boys with polar opposite religious opinions and a backsliding local sheriff, all of whom are exposed to the screen door phenomenon. However, we only see the superficial consequences of this experience on their lives and nothing of real substance. The exploration of their characters is too brief.

What drives the viewer crazy is the bewildering number of subplots that dominate the full two hours of this movie. Thereís a minister struggling with both his faith and his wayward son, a female barfly looking for a good time in all the wrong places, the local mayor facing his deeply religious extortionist brother after a well orchestrated affair, reformed Baptists battling it out with evangelicals in the church parking lot and much, much more.

Now, if one re-shot this film utilizing members from this talented cast, trimmed away the superfluous story lines, developed a select group of characters, kept the same excellent director of photography (Daniel Stoloff) and introduced more of Max Lichtensteinís music scores during the film instead of at the end of the credits, the result could have been a masterpiece.


Mark's Movie Meter

General Audiences: C

Sudden appearance of the likeness of Jesus on a screen door in Bethlehem, Texas, stirs passions in believers and non-believers alike. Sexuality, racist epithets and language. Much like daytime television.

Family Audiences: Rated R
This door is definitely closed for children. However, some of college age will revel in the religious hypocrisy theme and skewering of small-town evangelicals.




















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