Greetings again from the darkness. Well, if you are going to make a movie about redemption and bettering one’s self, who better to cast than Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson? Both men are stars who on multiple occasions have needed redeeming. Writer-director Rosalind Ross’ first feature film is based on the true story of Stuart Long, and Mr. Wahlberg was so committed to the project that he funded production when others chose not to.
OK, so maybe it’s a bit of a stretch having Mr. Wahlberg play the guy who becomes a priest, but that’s why they call it, “the magic of Hollywood.” Stuart Long was a real person and his story is compelling and worth sharing. Wahlberg so believed this that he self-funded the production, and clearly gave his all in the performance. My advice to anyone watching the movie is to stay seated. Things move extremely fast … and it’s that expeditious approach to storytelling that gives this a bit of a movie-of-the-week feel. Here’s what I mean by fast: We see Stu (Wahlberg) as a boxer. His parents are long-divorced, and after an injury, Stu decides to head to California to be an actor. He falls in love with a girl who convinces him to get baptized, and the experience inspires him to become a Catholic priest. Severe health issues ensue, yet he persists. That’s a whole lot to cover in two hours, and it explains why each piece skims only the surface and feels rushed … and this is only a partial list!
The pedigree here is beyond question. Wahlberg has twice been Oscar nominated. Two-time Oscar winner Mel Gibson plays his father, while 2-time Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver is Stu’s mother. Screen legend Malcolm McDowell plays the local monsignor who finds himself in a pickle, and the always-great Colleen Camp has a brief appearance as a seen-it-all motel clerk. Teresa Ruiz is terrific as Carmen, Stu’s reluctant love interest who first think she understands him, then learns she doesn’t, and then ultimately respects what he’s made of himself.
Catholicism plays a big role here, and there is plenty of guilt to go around. Wahlberg leans heavily into his charm to help us relate to Stu, but he and Gibson both have cringe-inducing moments for those familiar with some of their off-screen activities. Gibson’s ‘Hitler’ crack seems to walk an especially fine line. On the other hand, Gibson delivers a couple of memorable lines: one early on when he’s watching young Stu dance, and another later on when the two are re-connecting as grown men. Filmmaker Ross includes some actual Stuart Long audio recordings, photographs, and video over the closing credits.
Opens in theaters April 13, 2022