A self-proclaimed biblical archeologist somehow finds holy artifacts that have eluded the scientific and theological community for centuries – millennia, even – and brings them home to the US of A to help one Utah pastor reinvigorate his flock.
A ripe premise, that. The fact that the archeologist is played by Sam Rockwell, and the pastor by Danny McBride, only heightens the possibilities. On top of that, Don Verdean was directed by Jared Hess, co-written with his wife Jerusha, the team responsible for Napoleon Dynamite.
This should definitely work better than it does.
On paper, Don Verdean is a hoot. Add to the capable leads and a satire-rich premise the outstanding supporting cast. Amy Ryan offers an understated tenderness and humor as Don’s faithful assistant Carol, and Leslie Bibb is a stitch in her too-small role as Joylinda Lazarus, former prostitute, current pastor’s wife.
But Jemaine Clement could face criminal charges for the way he steals scenes as Verdean’s man on the ground in the Holy Land, Boaz.
The pieces are there, but the execution is way off. Hess’s film is too sweetly, compassionately cynical for its own good. What humor the film offers is frustratingly laid back, and far too often a tart comedic set up suffers from weak follow through.
The Hesses don’t seem to have the teeth for religious satire. Is Verdean a huckster or a soft but decent man led astray by Satan’s earthly influence, greed? Or is everyone in the film just suffering from idiocy and whimsy in equal measure?
Most disheartening of all is the misuse of Rockwell, who also executive produces. His performance is so low key as to be sleep inducing.
Rockwell and Clement co-starred in the Hesses’ previous effort, Gentlemen Broncos, which was far weirder than it was funny. For their next film they dialed down the weird a bit, but the comedy itself is even more subdued.
That’s unfortunate, because they may have really had something if they’d known what to do with it.
They come into our lives quickly, yearning for a state football title that never was, yelling “put that coffee down,” or jamming to Sister Christian on an awesome mix tape.
Then they’re gone..but never forgotten.
Here are ten supporting characters we’d love to see come back and take the lead:
Megan (Melissa McCarthy), Bridesmaids
Yes, please. Melissa McCarthy crafted a fully realized person with Megan, someone we kind of recognized, someone we’d like to see in almost any situation.
Carl Spackler (Bill Murray), Caddyshack
Drop us into Carl Spackler’s life at any point at all, and just leave us there for a couple hours. That’s really all we ask.
Blake (Alec Baldwin), Glengarry Glen Ross
We must have more! Alec Baldwin seared right through the celluloid with his one big speech, leaving us wanting more from this ball buster.
Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence), American Hustle
Jennifer Lawrence so fully developed this relatively minor character that we were mesmerized, and we want to see more. Maybe show us her courtship with Irving, maybe take us to her new life with mafioso Pete. Hell, just leave us at home with Rosalyn, her son and her “science oven” – that would probably be entertaining enough.
Charlie Meadows (John Goodman), Barton Fink
Few filmmakers can pack a screenplay with more fascinating supporting characters than the Coens, and John Goodman’s had the great fortune of playing many of them. Walter? He could get a movie. Roland Turner, junky bluesman from Inside Llewyn Davis could probably shoulder a full film. But Goodman’s most mysterious and complex performance came as Barton Fink‘s unusual neighbor Charlie Meadows, and we’d like to know what made him tick.
Rahad Jackson (Alfred Molina), Boogie Nights
Indeed, almost every character in Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant Boogie Nights could hold our attention in a film of their own, but it’s Rahad Jackson, Night Ranger lover, who really piqued our interest.
Margie Hendricks (Regina King), Ray
Certainly Hendricks, longtime backup singer and secret girlfriend to Ray Charles, led a life fascinating enough to merit a film, but it was Regina King’s performance in Ray as the saucy, troubled chanteuse that compels her inclusion on this list. King ranks among the most underappreciated and versatile talents working today, but her turn in this biopic is her best.
Uncle Rico (John Gries), Napoleon Dynamite
What was high school like for Uncle Rico? Why is he living currently in that RV? What will his next business venture bring? Honestly, anything Uncle Rico does would entertain us.
Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe), Wild at Heart
The David Lynch universe is populated by dozens of fascinating characters, including, of course, Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth. But Bobby Peru is the one we just didn’t get quite enough time with. The most exciting item to hit Big Tuna since the ’86 cyclone, Bobby needs a full backstory movie.
Quint (Robert Shaw), Jaws
Here’s a guy who lived a life, workin’ for a livin’ and sharkin‘…right up until a shark ate him. We want to see some of his other adventures. You know, the ones he survived.
It’s almost May…what’s that I smell? Lilacs? Goose poop? Fresh spring roadkill? Nope, it’s that similar fragrance mashup of boutonnieres, hair spray, and desperation that equals prom.
Let’s all relive our own prom anxieties while the kids struggle through their real-life horror, shall we?
Yes! Best prom movie ever! Sure, it opens like a ‘70s soft core porno with images created by a director who has clearly never been in a girls’ locker room. But as soon as that bloody stream punctures the dreamlike shower sequence, we witness the definitive moment in mean girl cinema.
No, Senior Prom, or “Love Among the Stars,” doesn’t go as well as it might have for poor Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) and her classmates. Contrite Sue Snell (Amy Irving), who’d given up her own prom so boyfriend Tommy (William Katt, sporting an awe inspiring ‘fro) could accompany Carrie, sneaks in to witness her own good deed. Unfortunately for Sue, the strict rules of horror cinema demand that outcasts remain outcasts. Sure, Sue shouldn’t have been mean to Carrie in the first place, but being nice was the big mistake. Only bad things would follow.
Quote: They’re all going to laugh at you.
Prom Night (1980)
This bland Jamie Lee Curtis slasher crystalized a formula that would be mimicked (often more successfully) for decades. Open with a flashback, turn it into a secret kept among a handful of friends, flash forward to one big event these friends are planning, nightmare resurfaces and red herrings await.
But that’s not the reason to see Prom Night. See it for the super-colossal dance floor boogie. Go Jamie Lee and Jamie Lee’s thumbs, go! Is that Leslie Nielsen? Who brought that glitter? It’s always fun to see someone die on prom night.
Quote: It’s not who you go with, honey. It’s who takes you home.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
No one rocks a brown corduroy suit at a formal dance like my husband, but Napoleon Dynamite comes in second. And what about Deb’s awesome sleeves? That’s a styling couple.
Kip may have found his soul mate, but poor Napoleon’s still swimming the tepid pool of young love, llama food, best friends, delusional uncles, ailing grandmas, and sweet moves. Thank God for it.
Quote: I like your sleeves.
Poodle skirt to hot pants, that’s the transformation at the heart of this generation-pleaser. Did Sandy (Olivia Newton John) have a yeast infection by the time she got those pants off? Well, of course she did, but it was worth it to call John Travolta a stud and do a frisky dance in the Shake Shack.
Let’s not forget the prom, though. Cha Cha DiGregorio (the best dancer at St. Bernadette’s…with the worst reputation!) might have planned to dump Kenickie and steal Danny (Travolta) away from the fair and timid Sandy, but she did not know the hygienically questionable lengths Sandy was willing to go to keep her man.
Quote: It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s what you do with your dancin’ shoes.
See this one now, not the ridiculous remake. (How do I know it’s ridiculous? Because it’s a remake of Footloose, for Lord’s sake.)
Kevin Bacon moves to a hyper-conservative town and has to dance his way out. John Lithgow scowls. Sarah Jessica Parker looks unfashionable. Chris Penn learns to disco. Tears are shed, families are mended.
Quote: If our Lord wasn’t testing us, how would you account for the proliferation, these days, of this obscene rock and roll music, with its gospel of easy sexuality and relaxed morality?
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
Years before Sarah Michelle Gellar began her 145-episode vampire battle royale, and one year before writer Joss Whedon would pen the animated masterpiece Toy Story, Kristy Swanson joined that guy from 90210 (Luke Perry) to stake the undead at the big high school formal as the silver screen Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Bonus points for casting choices in Paul Reubens and Rutger Hauer as marauding, stinky vampires. Additional points for an early, non-Oscar nominated role for Hilary Swank.
Quote: All I want to do is graduate from high school, go to Europe, marry Christian Slater, and die.
Pretty in Pink (1986)
Part 3 of the Molly Trilogy, Pretty in Pink mopes with a cool redhead (Ringwald) from the wrong side of the tracks as she stokes her anxiety about prom and its place in her existential dread.
Some claim you can learn all you need to know about a person by asking which is their favorite Beatle. I disagree. The real question: who did you root for, Blane or Duckie?
Quote: His name is Blane?! That’s not a name, that’s a major appliance.