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Review: 'Saratov Approach' is a spiritual thriller with little soul

EntertainmentMoviesReviewsCorbin Allred

"The Saratov Approach," based on the true story of two young Mormon missionaries who, in 1998, were kidnapped and held for a $300,000 ransom while serving in Saratov, Russia, should satisfy pious viewers looking for a dose of headline reality with their uplift. Others, however, may find much of this so-called spiritual thriller soft and preachy.

The film's saving grace is its engaging leads, Corbin Allred and Maclain Nelson, who play, respectively, abductees Travis Tuttle and Andrew Propst. Although clearly older than their 20-year-old characters, they bring heartfelt commitment to their roles, even when the script turns overly beatific, which is often.

Overall, writer-director Garrett Batty takes such a tempered approach, the film lacks the kind of gritty, visceral tension that life-and-death tales such as this normally demand. Even Tuttle and Propst's kidnappers — ex-navy man Sergei (Alex Veadov) and his reluctant accomplice, Nikolai (Nikita Bogolyubov) — feel largely toothless.

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Less effective, though, are the stateside scenes in which Tuttle and Propst's anxious parents await news of their captive sons while authorities work the case. Uneven acting, some trite dialogue and several overplayed emotional beats flatten instead of round out the storytelling here.

Still, if the reportedly strong grosses from the film's initial engagements this past fall are any indication, there's an audience out there ready to embrace "Saratov's" unabashedly earnest recounting.

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"The Saratov Approach."

MPAA rating: PG-13 for some violence. In English and Russian with English subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Playing: At the Cinemark Rave 18, Los Angeles; Cinemark Century Stadium 25, Orange.

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