The unholy bond between religion and politics is the background for Persecuted, a confused and confusing thriller about a TV preacher ruined by a sinister government plot.
Written and directed by Daniel Lusko, who has Christian documentaries among his credits, and having ex-GOP senator Fred Dalton Thompson and Fox News personality Gretchen Carlson in its cast, you can guess its politics.
But the targets are less clearly defined than you might expect. There are evil feds, and righteous ones. There are veiled attacks on a Congressional effort to give all religions equal standing, and federal tax money. The president is a devious Clinton look-alike. But big-time religion takes it on the chin, too. The most sinister scenes in it take place in the boardroom of a multi-million dollar TV ministry.
So, fair and balanced, right? Not exactly.
James Remar, who broke out in films 35 years ago with The Warriors and later as the villain of 48 Hours, is cast against type as John Luther, an ex-drug addict who now leads Truth Live!, a crusade that he aims to keep above politics, above religious denominations.
Sinister Sen. Donald Harrison (Bruce Davison) is pressuring Luther to endorse The Faith and Fairness Act, something backed by an organization called SUMAC. Its incredibly vague what this will do, but it seems to be some sort of religious tolerance/equality act that will give all religions equal standing and all religions equal access to adherents to other faiths. Luther isnt having it. But hes been warned.
A drive home takes a turn toward the honey trap theyve set for him. A girl dies. Luther is on the lam, hunted by the law, as his ministry tumbles into the hands of his opportunistic second-in-command (Christian comic Brad Stine, pretty good).
Luther turns to his wise old dad (Thompson), who happens to be a Catholic priest, another bit of back story that is unexplained.
Those who believe in nothing must bring you down, Dad warns. Youre just a pawn in a political game.
The safe way to approach this is as the thriller it is supposed to be, and as such, Persecuted is pretty limp. Theres no urgency to the performances, no ticking clock to Luthers desperate bid to clear his name. Remar, a fine character actor, is utterly miscast as a preacher. He doesnt have the pulpit presence.
Cops dont stop to question a guy (Luther) sitting in a darkened car, wearing a hoodie and watching a suburban house, even though they see him. A hotel clerk is so anxious to turn Luther in that she dials up the cops while Luther is waiting for his room key. Missteps like that abound.
More interesting are Luthers repeated entreaties to a supernatural being that isnt keeping him or his family safe, shouted prayers that go unanswered. Luther, however, doesnt lose faith, even when hes confronting the senator.
Remember what the Lord said
Oh, stop with the Lord!
This slapdash script fails to articulate its basic complaint or identify who, exactly, is persecuting them. Government? The culture? Liberals? Humanists? Jews? U2s Bono?
You wonder, because you cant help but notice this movies almost all-white cast around the time we see the evangelical son of the Catholic priest rub his rosary beads one last time, and pick up a gun.