The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Beyond the Mask

Faith-based movies are often accused of being "filmed sermons." Beyond the Mask actively seeks to challenge that assumption. While definitely a story about Christian faith, it puts equal emphasis on trying to be a rousing piece of entertainment. That's an admirable goal; we need more faith-based films that are willing to go this route. And maybe, if more do, they'll come closer to succeeding than Beyond the Mask does. This is generally new territory for the genre, and it's going to take some time for filmmakers to work out the kinks of marrying a message to a thrill ride.

Andrew Cheney plays William Reynolds, an assassin for the British East India Trading Company. After being double-crossed by his employer, Charles Kemp (John Rhys-Davies), he makes his way to the American colonies. There, he poses as a vicar, meets and falls in love with a young woman named Charlotte Holloway (Kara Killmer), and becomes something of a protégé to Benjamin Franklin (Alan Madlane). Reynolds, not normally a religious man, is inspired to redeem himself so that he can earn Charlotte's love. He promises God he will become a better man, should the Lord guide him to do so. Donning a mask, Reynolds turns into something of a superhero who becomes known as "the Journeyman.” Under this guise, he helps people in need, while also doing things to thwart Kemp's plans in the new country. When Reynolds discovers that the businessman has an especially ruthless scheme to prevent the colonies from achieving independence, he redoubles his efforts.

Beyond the Mask is a visually lavish production. Whereas many faith-based films look like cheaply-shot TV movies, this one has a sense of grandeur. The costumes, sets, and CGI used to recreate the earliest days of the United States are all impressive. Director Chad Burns has gone to great lengths to give his film a sumptuous period atmosphere, and his efforts are largely successful. Beyond the Mask also has a very effective message about the power of faith. William Reynolds has done bad things, yet he comes to a point where he wants to change. By turning himself over to God, he finds the strength to improve himself. The movie is about how it's never too late to change, and how recognizing that there's something bigger than oneself can be a great impetus to do so. The other key highlight is the performance from John Rhys-Davies, the veteran actor best known, of course, as Sallah in Raiders of the Lost Ark. As Charles Kemp, he hits the sweet spot of being despicable while also fascinatingly magnetic. The man knows how to play a villain.

Where Beyond the Mask gets into trouble is in its desire to combine several disparate elements. It wants to be a faith-based film, a historical drama, and an action/adventure movie at the same time. Those three things are blended together awkwardly, leading to shifts in tone that can be jarring. The effect is like flipping back and forth between three different movies on cable, watching a scene from one, then watching a scene from another, and so on. This problem is most egregious in the grand finale, which bounces from scenes involving the very important subject of the passing of the Declaration of Independence to scenes of things blowing up and people outrunning explosions. Burns and his screenwriters – Paul McCusker, Stephen Kendrick, and Brennan Smith – never figure out how to seamlessly integrate the action, historical material, and religious message. As such, the movie plays very disjointedly.

It's commendable that Beyond the Mask tries to toss in some thrills, although the action sequences are not always terribly exciting because they have no style of their own. The movie mimics mainstream pictures rather than finding what's right for the story. Look, for instance, at the way fight scenes are choreographed. Right in the middle of 1776, you suddenly see Reynolds battling people using what appear to be more modern martial arts-influenced moves. The camera movement and editing become frenzied during these times, which is out of place with the rhythms of both historical dramas and faith-based films. In other words, you can feel Beyond the Mask straining to be fun, at the expense of tonal continuity.

That might not have been so troublesome were the characters more than one-dimensional. Kemp aside, everyone is paper thin, especially Charlotte, who is about as generic a female lead as you'll find. But again, Beyond the Mask looks great, has some nice moments of humor, and delivers its Christian message effectively, without bludgeoning the audience. It's an important faith-based film for its attempt to introduce elements not usually found in the genre. Even if a few things are fumbled along the way, credit is due for the ambition. It'll be interesting to see where Burns and his team go in the future.

( out of four)

Beyond the Mask is rated PG for action, violence and some thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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