Provident Films (Courageous, Fireproof, and October Baby), along with Samuel Goldwyn Films, is set to release Home Run in theaters on April 19th.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Home Run is a faith-based production meant to give insight into the lives of people struggling with personal as well as professional problems. Featuring Scott Elrod (Men in Trees) and Vivica A. Fox (Independence Day), and directed by David Boyd, the story centers on Cory, a baseball player grappling with alcoholism. When Cory's out-of-control drinking combines with his rage, his behavior creates a PR nightmare, his team suspends him, and he ends up in the small Oklahoma town of his youth, coaching Little League. Forced by his suspension to seek help, Cory's only option is Celebrate Recovery. Ignoring it and its members at first, Cory ultimately hits rock bottom. But as will happen often with people who hit rock bottom, Cory begins to see that there is more to life than just him, and he is rescued by the realization that there is more to life than just the mental and physical.
PREVIEW REVIEW: While the baseball field may be the setting, Home Run is not really about sports. The story concerns the destructive nature of our addictive habits and our need for Jesus Christ to complete our lives. Itís also a blatant commercial for Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered 12-step restoration program launched by Rick Warren's Saddleback Church some years ago. During the location shoot in Tulsa, OK, I was able to talk with the co-founder of Celebrate Recovery. Weíll get to that in a minute. But firstÖ
My desire is to glorify God in my work as a film critic and to strengthen the Body of Christ by spotlighting films that aid in our spiritual walk. Thatís a little heady, I know, but thatís the goal. So, can you imagine how difficult it is for me to say something negative about a film designed to help people and promote the Kingdom of God? But the makers of Home Run want the same thing as those in the secular end of the business Ė your support. The producers have entered the world of commerce and my allegiance is to you, not the well-intentioned moviemaker. That said, I think I may be in for a guilt-ridden sleepless night for what Iím about to writeÖHere goesÖ
Mostly, Home Runís production values are satisfactory, but evidently the director and camera operator never met a close-up they didnít like. That may be perceived as picayune, but this and other film faults quickly become evident, warning viewers that the filmmaking team of this baseball movie-with-a-message, you should excuse the expression, took their eye off the ball.
A message film is always more effective when the technical and artistic merits score as highly as the pictureís theme. Its story and characterizations must never be compromised for the sake of the moral. Otherwise, you just have a church film that sermonizes, and, sadly, because thatís what occurs in this case, we are left with a base hit rather than a home run. Okay, thatís my last baseball metaphor.
The acting, though sincere, is uninspired, and the kid actors were probably better at the tryouts. Ms. Fox, who I am a fan of, here plays the role of the bullying agent with all the subtlety of a political convention, and the main actor fails to generate much real emotion. Mr. Elrod relies more on an Ultra Bright toothy grin than any thespian method. I suspect that smile was used purposely to indicate shallowness of character, but little else was applied to reveal inner dimension.
Years ago, Jack Lemmon played an alcoholic in The Days of Wine and Roses, giving moviegoers a three-dimensional portrait of a man who finally faces his ailment. That film is gut-wrenching. Because of its poignancy and realism, if any film can cause people to seek help in controlling a life-destroying addiction, it may be the one.
Home Run contains the same message. Alas, we never since Coryís loss. Indeed, he really doesnít lose anything. By filmís end, heís reestablished and even wins back his former sweetheart. In Days of Wine and Roses, there is a loss, a tragic loss, and it does haunt us.
Further frustrating this reviewer is the writerís intent. Make that writers, for there are four listed as responsible for this rather shallow screenplay. Itís also never made clear why someone would open up to a group of strangers concerning his or her addiction. Nor is it clear why you should. We see down-and-outers assemble for an AA-like meeting to discuss how they got caught up in porn or cocaine or had the misfortune of having parents who mentally or physically abused them, but the film fails to clarify how exposing your private affairs to strangers aids in recovery. Iím sure Celebrate Recovery has a reason for this, but for me the usefulness of this tactic was never properly addressed. Is the act of self-evaluation in front of strangers cathartic? Therapeutic? How so?
Iím not convinced that group-meeting programs alone are sufficient for fighting deep seeded addiction. Remember, this guy in the film not only has a drinking problem, he also has an anger management struggle. These encounter sessions should probably be coupled with Christian psychologist counseling.
I have religious compatriots who will no doubt give the film 4 stars, or 4 fish, or 4 something or other, but most likely theyíll overlook the productionís failings in favor of promoting the message. ďBut Phil, you canít expect a religious film from a small production company to be on the same level as a Hollywood production.Ē Why not? Audiences are gonna pay the same amount to see it, or rent it, or own it. As I said, the producers entered not just show-biz in order to preach, but the world of commerce where they expect you to pay for the sermon.
Itís not an awful movie. Not even a bad movie. It is, however, more like an infomercial than a movie. Instead of selling us on the need to own gold or a squiggly hose thatís somehow better than old-fashioned hoses, here we have a film designed to get us all to attend the next Celebrate Recovery meeting.
The pictureís strongest scene has the lead realizing that he canít defeat his addiction. No one can. Youíll live with that craving the rest of your life. And there will be days when you take your eye off Christ or fail to contact a supportive ear, and succumb to the temptation. Thatís when a minor character in the film reminds us that God knows each personís frame. He studies the heart, not our works, loving us despite our shortcomings or our sins. This, as I said, is the filmís one strength, for it gives us all an insight into Godís unconditional love.
Still feeling somewhat guilty for finding fault with Home Run, allow me to finish up by including portions of the friendly interview I conducted in 2011 with the co-founder of Celebrate Recovery. John Baker, a former businessman and recovering alcoholic, graciously gave me as much time as I wanted to interview him while on location of the making of Home Run.
PHIL BOATWRIGHT: John, let me get the money issue out of the way so people understand what the sole purpose is of Celebrate Recovery. How is the organization funded?
JOHN BAKER: We're a ministry of Saddleback Church. I'm on staff and receive a salary from the church. And although there are 19,000 churches that have a Celebrate Recovery program, we only have six people on the Celebrate Recovery headquarters. Our organization is built by volunteers. Some churches have become so big as far as Celebrate Recovery that they have now hired what they call Celebrate Recovery pastors. But they are funded by their own churches. By the way, neither the Saddleback Church nor the Celebrate Recovery organization receives any money from the film production. If I had money I would have paid to get a movie like this made. As far as the Celebrate Recovery churches, they don't pay a penny to use the Celebrate Recovery program.
BOATWRIGHT: How did the concept for Celebrate Recovery come about? And what exactly is the concept?
BAKER: I had the addiction of alcohol for 19 years. It didn't start off that way, but it became that way. One of the things secular organizations say of alcoholism is that it's a disease. I call it the sin disease. The day I would be getting drunk, I was purposely sinning. But there was also a day, and I wish I could tell you the date, when that line got crossed and I could not stop drinking. My addiction owned me. And it wasn't until I fully turned it over to Christ through the 12 steps that the hole in my life was filled. What you discover is that usually with every addiction, the addiction is just the symptom of the problem.
BOATWRIGHT: How do you find what that problem is?
BAKER: That's what you do in recovery. While recovering through my participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, I began desiring a program centered more on Christ's teachings. I outlined a 13-page, single-spaced letter to Saddleback Senior Pastor Rick Warren detailing the purpose of the program. Rick's response was, "John, you do it." Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered program based on eight principles drawn from the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. These are the foundation of the approach to dealing with a variety of personal issues ranging from substance abuse, alcohol addiction, sexual addiction, child abuse and more.
BOATWRIGHT: For people in cities that don't have this program, what would you advise them?
BAKER: Start one! And we'll help you.
BOATWRIGHT: How would they go about that?
BAKER: Go to the website (www.celebraterecovery.com) and find a recovery program close by. There's a group finder on the site. Go check it out. Each group will have its own personality, so if you don't like that one, go check out another one. There are representatives who are volunteers, who do training. You're never left without help.
BOATWRIGHT: They're given materials?
BAKER: Yes, in fact they can look at the materials on the website.
BOATWRIGHT: When you get a handle on your illness or your sin, do you find that another hindrance in your spiritual walk pops up?
BOATWRIGHT: If someone says to you, "Look, brother, God can't bless you because you're doing this or that," that raises the question, when can God ever bless you?
BAKER: I don't say that, because God takes us just as we are. But He loves us too much to let us stay that way. Everybody who has sin is broken. We've all fallen short, all missed the mark -- some of us to different extents. Their hurt may not have affected their life as drastically as drugs would. But God will continue to use you as long as you're useful. And I truly believe that until He takes me home, I will not be fully recovered from sin. But He doesn't ignore me because I struggle or fail. It's so hard for us to comprehend that deep of a love. That's one of the things I learned through the program.
Now, back to my take on the film. I canít in good conscious give it 4 stars. Or three. Or even two and a half. But itís a clean film, one that promotes solid spiritual values, and come to think of it, itís probably better than most of the other features playing at the local cineplex this weekend.
There, now I can sleep.