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Movie review: 'Father Stu' can't redeem inept filmmaking

1/5
Movie review: 'Father Stu' can't redeem inept filmmaking
Mark Wahlberg plays Stuart Long in "Father Stu." Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

LOS ANGELES, April 12 (UPI) -- The true story of Stuart Long may very well be inspiring, as it follows the journey of a boxer who becomes a priest. However, the movie Father Stu, in theaters Wednesday, only inspires unintentional laughter.

Stu (Mark Wahlberg) is an amateur boxer who has to retire because his injuries keep getting infected. He decides to move to Los Angeles to try to make it as an actor.

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Stu is paying the bills by working the butcher counter at a supermarket when he follows Carmen (Teresa Ruiz) to her church. At first, Stu only gets involved with church to be close to Carmen. But after surviving a motorcycle accident, he decides to enter the priesthood.

Right away, one can tell that first-time director Rosalind Ross is not up to the task of telling Stu's story. Overuse of Dutch angles and extreme close-ups are simply uncomfortable to watch, rather than add intended intensity.

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Some scenes, which may be based on true events, are bafflingly constructed. A customer orders two racks of lamb at the butcher counter, but when Stu sees Carmen for the first time, he loses all focus.

That part makes sense, but the customer disappears entirely from the scene. Stu abandons his post and runs after Carmen while the person vanishes, hungry without his meat order.

It's truly impossible to understand Wahlberg's mumbling. The film requires subtitles, but even the sections that are audible attest that we're not missing any eloquent prose in the screenplay, also by Ross.

Stu's decision also affects Carmen, since priesthood means no more girlfriends, let alone marriage. Ruiz gets one scene to portray Carmen's turmoil before the movie moves on.

Stu's father, Bill (Mel Gibson), compares Stu becoming a priest to Adolf Hitler joining the ADL (Anti-Defamation League). That's a confounding line to put in Gibson's mouth.

Those who remember Gibson's anti-Semitic statements probably aren't watching Father Stu anyway. Film critics with media history remember and question the wisdom in allowing Gibson to allude to Judaism, either pro or con.

Father Stu does depict Bill as a negligent father. He's a force of discouragement for Stu to overcome, but he also uses the R-word, which may be accurate to a guy like Bill, but doesn't need to be spoken in a 2022 movie.

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Naysayers aren't the only trouble Stu faces. Applying to seminary is not so easy with Stu's record and further hardships test Stu to stick with it.

Bad makeup is applied to Wahlberg later in Stu's life. In some scenes, he looks like a wax statue of Wahlberg, but then he blinks and reminds you he's actually in there.

Wahlberg does succeed at conveying Stu's charm. Even when he schmoozes customers at the supermarket, he's endearing.

And when he brings his profanity-laden swagger to church, he's self-deprecating enough that it's understandable they tolerate him. The R-rated language seems at odds with the faith-based audience for the film, so at least Ross was honest about where Stu came from and didn't sanitize it for a PG-13.

True stories have become Wahlberg's stock-in-trade for the last dozen years. But Father Stu lacks the filmmaking prowess that made Lone Survivor, All the Money in the World or The Fighter compelling.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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