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`Facing the Giants': A game plan of faith, fate

October 02, 2006|William Lobdell | Times Staff Writer

If there were an Oscar category for ultralow-budget movies with all-volunteer casts produced, written and directed by unknown pastors, "Facing the Giants" would handily be nominated.

But stacked against its competition in theaters, "Facing the Giants" feels like an overly earnest church sketch of the type many evangelical congregations use as a teaching tool on Sunday between the worship music and pastor's message.

In the film, which opened Friday in a handful of Orange County cineplexes, a losing high school football team and its Job-like coach decide the solution is to put their fate in the Lord's hands.

"If we win, we praise him; if we lose, we praise him," Coach Grant Taylor (Alex Kendrick) tells his team. "I've resolved to give God everything I've got."

The family-friendly script, by Kendrick and his brother Stephen, two teaching pastors at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., contains about as much nuance as a lightning bolt from God and is as predictable as Adam biting into the apple.

For example, what role do you think David (Bailey Cave), a pint-sized football player for the Shiloh Christian High School, plays in the state championship game against a seemingly unbeatable team called the Giants? I won't spoil the ending, but let's just say the bigger they are ...

This weakness in the writing isn't helped by the acting; you are often reminded that this is the first -- and maybe last -- movie for most of the cast.

Still, believers in Jesus Christ, especially evangelicals, will rejoice in seeing "Facing the Giants," which despite its flaws is ultimately a sweet, sincere movie about Christian faith. (In fact, it's impossible to imagine how the film received a PG rating, unless you believe the movie's producers, who say the ratings board thought "Facing the Giants" used "Jesus Christ" too many times in the script.)

Before turning things over to God, Coach Taylor finds himself in plenty of trouble. He's on the verge of being fired from his Christian high school after six straight losing seasons. His car keeps breaking down. His finances are shaky. And the doctor has told him he's infertile.

After prayer and reading the Bible, the coach comes up with a new game plan: Trust God. And the team rebounds, thanks in part to the use of stories from the Scriptures as coaching tools. The errant field-goal kicker is told to keep the ball on the "narrow way" between the uprights. The defense is told to build a wall like Nehemiah instructed his people to do in the Hebrew Scriptures.

The results are, well, miraculous. God delivers so promptly that "Facing the Giants" comes across at times like an after-school special on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

And that's really its problem. In trying to be an authentic movie about a brand of faith, "Facing the Giants" steers dangerously close to caricature, though more flattering than Christians are used to from Hollywood.

Still, you can't help but wonder: How much more interesting would it have been, say, if even just one prayer by Coach Taylor hadn't been answered as if the Lord learned about customer service from Nordstrom?

God only knows.



'Facing the Giants'

MPAA rating: PG for some thematic elements

Distributor Samuel Goldwyn Films/Roadside Attractions. Directors-writers-producers Alex Kendrick, Stephen Kendrick. Cinematographer Bob Scott. Editor Alex Kendrick. Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes.

In selected Orange County locations.

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