"Courageous," the fourth entry from the filmmaking ministry of Albany, Ga's., Sherwood Baptist Church, proves a particularly clunky, tunnel-visioned vehicle whose overbearing, overlong script nearly smothers the movie's quibble-free message: Fathers must be responsible. And what of the importance of mothers here? It often feels like a case of "Oh, them."
Director Alex Kendrick and brother — and producer and co-writer — Stephen are both pastors at Sherwood Baptist.
Despite the story's earnest emotional core, actions and reactions can prove overly simplistic; black-and-white when gray is so clearly called for. The many topics raised — gangs, drugs, immigration, absentee parents, poverty — are examined with didacticism and platitudes instead of by mining their inherent complexities. It's a Scripture-conquers-all approach that perhaps savvily, given the notable success of Sherwood's last picture, "Fireproof," unabashedly preaches to the choir.
The plot ricochets among the lives of a quintet of main characters: stodgy Adam (director Kendrick); equitable, African American Nathan (Ken Bevel); playful Shane (Kevin Downes) and unmarried David (Ben Davies) — all Albany police officers — plus Javier (Robert Amaya), a Latino construction worker the four cops befriend. These guys enjoy an easy, jokey camaraderie (lame one-liners and forced "boys will be boys" ribbing abound) despite their personal and professional challenges.
But when tragedy strikes Adam, it compels this inexplicably selfish parent to take this fatherhood thing more seriously. To that end, he enlists his four pals to sign a resolution pledging themselves to God and to their fatherly duties. Weirdly, an outdoor pact-commitment ceremony, although a watershed moment, comes off a tad cultish.
While the resolution strengthens the men's bonds with their children, it also loosens the film's footing, turning it into an episodic series of mushy paternal moments and ethical curveballs meant to reinforce the fathers' pledge. Fortunately, an exciting climactic action sequence, which bookends a tense opening scene, provides some much-needed oomph.
Performances are largely mediocre, with Downes and Davies the most effective salesmen of the script's subtext-free dialogue. As the central lead, Alex Kendrick just doesn't possess the charisma, gravitas or camera-ready looks to carry the day (think: a more beatific, humorless Dan Aykroyd).
Also troublesome is the movie's doubtlessly inadvertent racial stereotyping. Yes, Nathan is seen as the near-perfect family man and an upright law enforcer, but otherwise, almost every criminal in town is also African American. In addition, the retro portrayal of Latinos — of the sing-songy, "have a tortilla" variety — like so much else presented here, is more cringe-worthy than authentically, well, courageous.