by Phil Boatwright

John Schneider, Jenn Gotzon, Robert Davi, Jennifer O’Neill, Joe Estevez, Ernie Hudson. Rivershorse Entertainment. Written & directed by Peter Mackenzie. 96 min.

You will spot several actors in Doonby who once enjoyed celebrity, but are now best known for supplying supporting roles in movies aimed at the Christian community; you know, films that can be shown in the church on Saturday night. However, this one has enough of an edge to draw interest from those looking for another take on It’s A Wonderful Life. Indeed, there is a message about one life affecting others, but rather than an angel getting his wings by film’s end, there’s a distinctive melancholy mood, as if the producers were as influenced by The Twilight Zone as they were by the James Stewart/Frank Capra classic.

The story is a well-crafted parable about a mysterious drifter who steps off a Greyhound bus and quickly becomes the talk of a small Texas town. After finding work as a bartender at Leroy’s Country Blues tavern, Sam Doonby soon displays an adroit talent, not just for fancy drink-mixing, but for singing and guitar pickin’. The handsome and charismatic Sam Doonby catches the eye of nearly every woman in town, but Doonby, who claims to be from here and there, falls for Laura, the lovely local party girl.

Sam seems to always be in the right place at the right time to prevent disasters from happening in the town. But before long, jealousy and suspicion drive the townspeople to question his sudden appearance and motives. Finally, when Laura begins to doubt him as well, wishing he had never been, Sam disappears as quickly as he appeared. The townsfolk, especially Laura, abruptly learn that there’s an awful hole left when one person no longer exists.

It is thought-provoking, the subtle message becomes clear as viewers leave the theater, and it’s clean, a film devoted to story rather than exploitation. That said, the subject of child abandonment, abortion, a spiritual person being a bartender, the accusation of rape and a couple of violent acts, including a mentally-deranged stalker attempting to kill the party girl, may be unsuitable for little ones and off-putting for those expecting a definitive Gospel declaration.

The producers have incorporated themes found in Mathew 25:40 (“Truly I say to you, because you did it to the least of my brothers, you did it to me”), and feature a complex and mysterious lead character with a compassionate nature. The production aspects are above par, the soundtrack satisfying, and the performances engrossing.