"The Other Side of Heaven," the tale of John Groberg's Mormon missionary work on the Tonga islands in the 1950s, captures a breathtaking exotic landscape cluttered only by the smugness of its characters. For its target audience, namely members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Heaven" will be held up as justification for a whole worldview. For others, it will be a statement of religious imperialism and cultural superiority.
Either way, Groberg's character (played with heart by Christopher Groham) could use some humanizing. Even Jesus experienced temptation, but Groberg - although likable - comes off so squeaky-clean that he's difficult to identify with. He's not sexually tempted by any of the natives, although they throw themselves at him, and he learns little from the cultural exchange, save "don't sleep with your feet uncovered or the rats will eat the soles of your feet." With such as intense light focused on his spirituality, his humanity disappears. He's cast as a religious Superman figure shipped to the "savage" Tonga islands to heal children and rescue babies. And while the natives are folded into the story, they still only hang around to reveal that, yes, Groberg was right about God, the world and everything.
2 1/2 stars
"The Other Side of Heaven" MPAA rating: PG (thematic elements, brief disturbing images)
Robert K. Elder is a Chicago Tribune Staff Writer.