The Grace Card, the new Christian offensive on the big screen

Say what you want about “organized religion.” Clichés like “I’m spiritual, not religious,” or “I’m Christian/Catholic, but I don’t go to church,” or the popular “I have a personal relationship with Jesus, I don’t need no priest, pastor, or book,” miss one key point: for good or bad, the power of organized religion lies not in the beliefs of followers (what George Carlin used to call “The Greatest Bullshit Story ever told”), but in the transformation those beliefs create in believers. To deny that would be as moronic as saying that atheists are an unfortunate bunch. Credit psychology, but anyone who stopped using, say heroin, after “meeting Jesus” will have a different explanation.

The Grace Card is the latest flick to explore the power of transformation faith has on some people.

Just like Christian rock has been growing throughout the years and enjoys a scene paralleling mainstream rock, Christian film is growing as well. The Grace Card is the product of Calvary Pictures (from Memphis-based Calvary Church), Graceworks Pictures (which “drew believing actors from more than 50 churches in the Memphis area”), Affirm Films (a division of Sony Pictures “dedicated to producing, acquiring, and marketing films that inspire, uplift, and entertain audiences”), and Provident Films, distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films, which gives it the secular seal of approval, I guess.

The movie centers on bitter cop Mac McDonald (comedian Michael Joiner, in a terrific dramatic and slightly racist turn), who lost a five-year-old son in an accident, and his black partner and part-time pastor Sam Wright (a clumsy but likable Michael Higgenbottom in his first feature), who struggles to keep career and vocation together. Sam has God in his life, Mac doesn’t. Instead, he has a bum of a teenage son who makes it hard for him to forget about the little son he lost (where did I see that before?). Throughout, Sam tries his best to convert Mac but, of course, he tries the friend approach rather than the pastor one, even though Sam doesn’t buy it.

For the most part, the movie is well-acted and entertaining, but you know that, sooner or later, something will happen and Sam will give in and surrender to Jesus, overcome by “the grace.”

The problem with The Grace Card is not that it is a Christian film. The problem is that the whole middle part of the movie — when you think the film is getting away from the usual feeling-manipulating faith-based formulas — is ruined by an ending so corny you want to torch the theater and join the anarchists.

This is a film that explores confusion, even among the faithful, and that is a good thing, especially when the two main characters (the good black cop and the bitter white cop) are so believable. What it does not explore for a second is the possibility that maybe, just maybe, a person who is not religious can be good.

“It’s not justice that we need, it is grace,” says Sam. That’s where you got it wrong, dude. You can and should be able to have both.

The Grace Card
Dir. David G. Evans; writ. Howard Klausner; feat. Michael Joiner, Mike Higgenbottom, Louis Gossett Jr. (PG-13)



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