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MOVIE REVIEW

Few redeeming qualities in homophobia-themed 'Sinner'

First-time director John Henry Davis fails to come to terms with issues his film raises.

March 28, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

While "Ordinary Sinner" manages to capture the sense of confusion and uncertainty a young man experiences at a crossroads in his life, it is a slack and preachy business that never comes to grips with its underlying theme of homophobia. It suffers further from the curse of many another awkward first film: an incessant hearts-and-flowers score that ordains every response.

Peter (Brendan P. Hines) is a 20-year-old Episcopalian seminarian who drops out when a troubled kid (Joshua Harto) he's been trying to help kills a guy who accused him of being gay. The kid turns his back on Peter and goes off to prison, leaving Peter so disillusioned that he gives up on his faith. For the summer, he rents a shack at the edge of the campus of a Vermont college whose chaplain (A Martinez) turns out to have been his parish priest when he was in high school. He has come to the college because his boyhood pal Alex (Kris Park) is a student there, staying on for the summer semester.

No sooner does Alex introduce him to his friend Rachel (Elizabeth Banks) than she decides it would be amusing to seduce the ex-seminarian, thus launching a seesawing relationship complicated by the possessive Alex's unresolved sexuality. Meanwhile, the town and campus are experiencing an upsurge in homophobia, provoking the chaplain to come out to his congregation. Other incidents ensue, but writer William Mahone and director John Henry Davis, way over their heads, try to tie things up with a last-minute murder mystery plot that plays out in a wholly contrived manner and evades coming to terms with the homophobia issue that the film raises.

Just why this particular community is experiencing such a rise in homophobia is never explained, nor does the film fully explore any of its complicated relationships. Peter and Rachel never address Alex's obvious emotional and sexual conflicts, but then they're unable to get a grip on their own relationship. Peter is supportive of the chaplain, but it's not clear how aware he is of the discreet relationship the chaplain is carrying on with the proprietor (Peter Onorati) of the local coffee shop. Nor does it ever become clear precisely what prompted Peter to drop out of the seminary.

The chaplain is by far the best-drawn character, and Martinez is the film's strongest asset. Onorati, with less screen time, is also solid and incisive. But since these two seasoned actors are in supporting roles, there is no way they can offset the murkiness that overcomes the well-meaning but inept "Ordinary Sinner."

*

`Ordinary Sinner'

MPAA rating: Unrated.

Times guidelines: Complicated adult themes.

Brendan P. Hines...Peter

Elizabeth Banks...Rachel

Kris Park...Alex

A Martinez...Father Ed

Peter Onorati...Mike

A TLA Features release. Director John Henry Davis. Producers Chris Bongirne, John Henry Davis, J.B. White. Executive producer William Mahone. Screenplay William Mahone, from a story by William Mahone and John Henry Davis. Cinematographer Mathieu Roberts. Editor Paul Zehrer. Music Brian Adler. Costumer Christianne Myers. Production designer Henry Dunn. Art director Daniel Meeker. Set decorator Kate Foster. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.

Exclusively at the Fairfax Cinemas, Beverly Boulevard at Fairfax Avenue, (323) 655-4010.

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