Don Verdean – Sundance 2015 Review

Written by ScottClark

A Sam Rockwell-led satire of religious fanaticism, co-starring Jemaine Clement, and directed by Napoleon Dynamite helmer Jared Hess, sounds like a cocktail for comic gold. But after a pretty solid first half, it loses its way in the most unfortunate way.

Don Verdean is a respected devout religious archaeologist who’s life goal is to discover the most famous of religious artefacts and cement the faith of the American people. After accepting a bankroll from evangelical preacher Tony Lazarus (Danny McBride), Verdean is under increasing pressure to uncover relics, and goes to increasingly impossible lengths to find them.

Opening with a tacky ode to 90’s educational VHS tapes, Don Verdean seems set for a sharp and, more importantly, original exercise in satire, exploring the line between fact, fiction, and belief. Rockwell makes a charismatic lead- as usual- investing wholly in his operation, but never really showing the audience whether he’s bullshitting or not, which is a good move. Clement is pretty funny for the first 20 minutes, then he becomes a central character and you realise he’s just milking an accent for pronunciation issues.

When the film should have been kicking into gear, upping the ante and ripping off Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, it dwells more and more on everything it originally set out not to be. Kidnap, extortion, nightclub scenes, the hallmarks of the Pineapple Express comedy sneak in until you notice they have overwhelmed the screen; the film has transformed, abandoned its roots, become a different monster entirely, and that’s a shame. It’s the one thing we didn’t need more of.

Don Verdean spends too much of its time laughing at broad cultural stereotypes and unsettling foreign accents, when it should be investing in its frankly superb supporting cast of US comedy cream. McBride and Leslie Bibb threaten to pull the rug out from under Rockwell and Clement, proving a far more hilarious duo, whislt Will Forte is a blast as Ex-Satanist Pastor Fontaine.  Shameful melodramatic strands pop up unwarranted in the blockbuster finale, whilst the feature never really reconciles its original concepts.

 

An initially intriguing comedy venture with a charismatic turn from Rockwell and laugh-out-loud supporting appearances, Don Verdean throws away its run time with a wasteful and uninspired second half. Melodramatic plot devices bog the film down where once it was buoyant and frankly interesting.

2/5

Scott Clark

 

Dir: Jared Hess

Stars: Sam Rockwell, Jermaine Clement, Amy Ryan, Danny McBride, Leslie Bibb, Will Forte

 

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