The Christian film scene is growing rapidly, allowing for pointed satire (“Believe Me“), straightforward horror (“The Remaining”) and screwball comedy (“Moms’ Night Out”).
How about historical fiction with a dash of superhero panache?
“Beyond the Mask” takes what’s clearly a small budget and shows just what’s possible with modern filmmaking tools. Credit those zeroes and ones for bringing 1776 back to life, but kudos to Burns Family Studios for not settling for the same old faith-based yarn.
The studios’ new film is breezy, family-friendly and Christ-centered in a way that doesn’t stop the story cold. It’s got some nagging flaws that previous Christian productions share and can’t shove aside Hollywood’s tentpole competitors. Still, it’s far more than a novelty act and could lead to bigger, better copycats.
Will Reynolds (Andrew Cheney) has done everything asked of him by the wicked British East India Company, personified by the villainous Charles Kemp (John Rhys-Davies, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”). Now, Will wants to move on. That convinces Charles to get rid of him … permanently.
When Will survives the assassination attempt, he starts a new life in the American colonies. He even falls for a beautiful woman (Kara Killmer, “Chicago Fire”) whose compassion points him in the direction of Christ. He’s one soul who could clearly use a dash of redemption.
Too bad Will’s past won’t go away, nor will his ties to Charles’ machinations. Soon, Will is strapping on a mask to keep a young country’s birth on track and impress his lady love.
“I’m not a good man, but I desire to be,” our hero says, a line that could come from any action romp. The film’s spiritual elements work smoothly within the parameters of the genre. The violence is intense but never gory, the kind younger audiences can watch without sparking nightmares.
That’s partly the point. It’s also refreshing at a time when Marvel superhero movies push the limits of PG-13 mayhem. Speaking of superheroes, the conflicted Will becomes a masked man mid-film, a shift that isn’t adequately explained but plays directly into the film’s “let’s put on a show” spirit.
It’s also why we’ll swallow the Rube Goldberg contraptions seen in the third act, powered by electricity and some clever leaps of narrative faith.
Less successful is Will’s attempt to fool the colonialists into initially thinking he’s a man of the cloth. The sub plot is played for laughs but produces mostly groans.
Performances range from solid to suspect, but Rhys-Davies serves up the right amount of ham. Too bad he’s given a preposterous coincidence that wouldn’t fly in any genre.
“Beyond the Mask” introduces us to a wise and witty Ben Franklin (Alan Madlane), doing all he can to ensure the birth of a nation takes place without incident. That dash of patriotism fits right in, and younger viewers may want to hit the books to find out the true story behind Franklin’s avuncular spirit.
‘Anyone can remake themselves here,’ a character tells our hero, a line sure to cheer Tea Party viewers.
Killmer’s Charlotte is hardly old fashioned, growing more empowered as the story evolves. The same can be said of the Christian film space, which thanks to “Beyond the Mask” goes in a dashing direction with this shrewd saga.
“Beyond the Mask” is in theaters starting April 6.