Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

(On Cable TV, August 2014) It feels vaguely improper to take apart a film as well-intentioned as Machine Gun Preacher.  It is, after all, the inspiring story of a junkie criminal who finds religion and embarks on a quest to save children in war-torn Africa.  How can you possibly criticize something like that?  But as noble as Machine Gun Preacher can be, its intentions don’t matter as much when the film itself proves to be so disappointing.  Even at nearly two hours, much of the film feels like a half-baked sketch, filled with diversions that are never explored and not particularly good at hitting its specific emotional targets.  Gerald Butler gets another thankless role as the titular preacher, with a script that doesn’t do much with the various ethical issues of seeing an ex-criminal taking up arms in the cause of peace.  A few secondary characters voice objections (as in “you should focus on your family first”, as in “if you take up arms, you may become part of the problem”), but those are ignored or blown away like so many troublesome subplots.  What’s maddening is the amount of material at the edges of the film, begging to be used more effectively with just a little bit more introspection.  The subject matters deserves better than this strange mix of gritty drama and action-movie heroics –to say nothing of the uncomfortable way Africa is saved by Yet Another White Hero. Machine Gun Preacher feels as if good intentions were mangled by Hollywood story meetings and possibly someone with a hankering to make an exploitation film along the way.  The result just feels limp despite its potential, and badly serves its inspiration.

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