ver since the massive success of “The Passion of the Christ,” Hollywood studios have been awakened to the fact that there is a huge Christian or “faith-based” market eager to enjoy a night out at the movies. In the years since, the frequency of Christian-themed films has greatly increased, often resulting in such surprisingly big hits as 2014’s “Heaven Is For Real,” which grossed $90 million.
Seeing “Heaven” make such a splash at the box office inspired its star, Greg Kinnear, to find another meaningful movie to star in, and this weekend’s “Same Kind of Different As Me” bears an even more impressive cast than his earlier hit. The film is based on the true story of international art dealer Ron Hall (Kinnear), who befriended a homeless man named Denver (Djimon Hounsou) in the hopes of saving his struggling marriage to his wife, Debbie (Renée Zellweger).
Based on the best-selling book of the same name, “Same” uses its unlikely core story of friendship and redemption to tell a story that is an extremely timely balm for our racially divided times. Ron Hall is a guy living the high life with a wife and two kids in a spacious home when his wife Debbie busts him for having an affair during their 19th year of marriage.
Ron replies that they haven’t had any passion for nearly a decade, but Debbie is willing to forgive him and take another chance on their marriage by asking him to join her in working at a homeless mission. While dishing out food to the poor, an angry man named Denver storms in with a baseball bat and angrily trashes the cafeteria — but Debbie defuses the situation and earns his respect and friendship by confronting him with firm politeness.
Denver haunts Debbie later that night, as she realizes he’s been appearing for weeks in her dreams. Seeking him out on the streets, she pays extra attention to him and encourages Ron to do the same. As Denver gets to know them better, his tragic life story shakes Ron to his core and establishes a bond between the men that changes the wealthy man’s worldview.
“Same” boasts impressive performances from its lead trio, who each have Oscar nominations or wins to their credit — – Kinnear a Supporting Actor nomination for “As Good as It Gets,” Zellweger a win for “Cold Mountain,” and Hounsou twice nominated for “Amistad” and “Blood Diamond.” Working with another Oscar winner, Jon Voight, they provide the film an instant credibility that many other faith-based films lack due to their low budgets and unknown actors.
Zellweger and Hounsou are especially touching, and it’s refreshing to see her back in full force after inexplicably taking most of the decade off from the screen. As Denver, Hounsou has to walk a fine line to avoid falling into the timeworn movie cliché of the Wise Black Man (that’s a nicer way of putting a longtime movie trope), but invests some real power in both his occasional outbursts and more frequent thoughtful brooding.
The movie does have one glaring and bizarre weak spot that hampers it at times: its sense of timeframe. The main story takes place in the present day, while Hounsou’s Denver shares his childhood stories in narrated flashbacks that show him talking about his childhood working on a plantation picking cotton and getting terrorized by hooded Klansmen. Unless Hounsou is playing a character way beyond his actual age, the effect is highly distracting, but ultimately can be overlooked when considered as a small part of a beautiful overall message.
Aside from that, the movie occasionally plods, but those who are eager to see a film with meaning about nice people who don’t blow each other up with super heroic weapons should find its thoughtful pace to be a bonus. “Same Kind of Different As Me” is different than most of the movies at the box office right now, and worth seeing if you’re looking for something to make you feel good about humanity in this utterly insane era. Grade: B
HAPPY DEATH DAY
Stars: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Rudy Modine
Length: 96 minutes
Directed by: Martin Campbell
This funny twist on slasher films is best described as “Scream” meets “Groundhog Day,” with Rothe in a breakout role as a self-absorbed sorority girl who keeps waking up to find that she’s reliving the day in which someone keeps trying to kill her, and has to become a better person in order to stay alive. Loads of fun and highly recommended. Grade: B
THE FLORIDA PROJECT
Stars: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto
Length: 115 minutes
Directed by: Sean Baker
This Sundance Film Fest favorite follows an aimless summer in the lives of a group of young kids in Orlando who live in a cheap motel without much supervision except from the motel manager, played by Dafoe in an amiably winning performance. A ramshackle slice of life that shows you a side of American society rarely depicted in films. Grade: B
KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE
Stars: Taran Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Channing Tatum
Length: 141 minutes
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
This sequel to the 2015 surprise hit spy comedy “Kingsman: The Secret Service” tries to follow the idea that “bigger is better” but comes up somewhat short. Big names like Moore and Tatum are added to the cast but do almost nothing, and there’s a long middle stretch without any action, but the parts that work are great enough to make this worth the watch for action comedy fans. Grade: B
Stars: Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Leberher, Finn Wolfhard
Length: 135 minutes
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Stephen King’s epic 1986 novel finally hits the big screen in the first of a planned two-part adaptation, mixing plenty of inventive scares with an affecting and funny group of 13-year-old outsiders in 1980s small-town Maine who have to team up to battle a demonic clown that’s killing children. Muschietti avoids exploiting the gruesome moments, making this a fun ride as much as it is a scarefest. Grade: A
Stars: Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renne
Length: 107 minutes
Directed by: Tyler Sheridan
This unusually thoughtful and serious thriller follows Olsen a Las Vegas FBI agent shipped to a remote Wyoming reservation to investigate the death of a young Native American woman, and the local game tracker (Renner) who helps her navigate both the terrain and its people. Writer-director Sheridan shows viewers a world rarely seen in film, blending the tragically overlooked lives of Native Americans with a fascinating mystery. Grade: A