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The Independent Critic

STARRING
Damien Chapa, Faye Dunaway, Robert Wagner, Jill St. John
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Damien Chapa
MPAA RATING
NR
RUNNING TIME
120 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Sabeva Film Distribution
 "The Calling" Review 
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"The Calling," (also available under the name "Man of Faith") is inspired by the true story of Rev. Leroy Jenkins, a controversial faith-healing evangelist who inspires strong reactions from both supporters and detractors alike.

Jenkins was abandoned as a child by his Cherokee mother, and raised by a poor South Carolina family. Plagued by unexplained supernatural occurrences throughout his young life, he experienced a tragic accident that nearly led to the loss of his arm at the age of 22. When he was miraculously healed during attendance at an Atlanta tent revival, Jenkins began a life in ministry that grew to astronomical proportions.

Jenkins blossomed as a minister, but quickly took the route of the stereotypical "televangelist" by possessing enormous wealth, large homes, expensive cars and allegedly an ego to match it all. After serving several years in prison when he is finally betrayed, Jenkins comes face to face with faith, his belief in God and his "calling."

As a minister myself, it is always a challenge to review films such as "The Calling." If I overly praise the film, I am accused of being blinded by my own faith and lacking in critical evaluation skills. On the other hand, if I am too harsh on the film many openly question my faith, my ministry and/or feel I am simply being too harsh on a film about faith.

I suppose the truth is somewhere in the middle. As written and directed by Damien Chapa, "The Calling" has remarkable potential but can't seem to decide what it wants to accomplish as a film. It is not mine to judge a minister, regardless of the number of well-publicized events, mistakes and happenings that would only serve to make one skeptical of his ministry. The reality is I've never attended a Jenkins' revival and doubt I ever will. While Jenkins has received considerable publicity, it is the inevitable challenge of a high profile minister that there will be supporters and doubters along the way. Even the greatest minister is a human being, and the result of being human is that poor choices will be made, mistakes will occur, and yes, sins will be committed.

As is the case with nearly every script, I do not buy into all the positives or all the negatives. I do not judge the man, because I am not a judge. I am, however, a film critic and I am very comfortable in saying that as a film "The Calling" is a major disappointment.

Along with writing and directing, Damien Chapa chooses to carry the lead role of Jenkins. Chapa has woefully miscast himself, and he is simply never convincing as a man of God or a man who cons. I never for a moment bought into the very basic tenet necessary...that Jenkins was a man of faith. Chapa's performance was simply too ridiculously timid and surface to be convincing.

On the other hand, as B.B. Gallen, the evangelist at the Atlanta tent revival that Jenkins attends, Brad Dourif has a field day and seems clearly in touch with both the modest degree of sincerity AND even moreso Gallen's sense of showmanship and mastery of the "art" of evangelizing.

Chapa has acquired quite the supporting cast, however, they are across the board disappointing. Faye Dunaway makes an appearance as Mae West and Robert Wagner is here along with Jill St. John.

While "The Calling" is generally a disappointment, the potential is here for a powerful film about ministry, calling, surrender, falling and re-surrendering oneself to serving God. It becomes painfully clear that the filmmaker never quite surrendered the material to God. Of course, the reason for this becomes rather clear when reading the film's credits. Jenkins himself is the film's executive producer...thus, one can't help but wonder if this isn't simply another tool used to provide a "testimony" that will fill the pews and the offerings.

I don't like being cynical. It's not my natural state, and yet as I sat there watching "The Calling" I kept feeling like even the most negative material and personal revelations of his own failures were being painted in such a light that the audience would never forget he was still a man of God. When you have to work that hard to get your message across, then something's just not right.

"The Calling" is, in the end, a film that tries too hard and simply accomplishes too little. In trying so hard to convince the viewer that Leroy Jenkins is on a lifelong spiritual path, "The Calling" sugarcoats the failures, mistakes, shortcomings and character defects that have followed a man that is both mesmerizing and mystifying.

Plagued by a weak performance by Chapa and tremendously underdeveloped supporting characters, "The Calling" ends up feeling like nothing more than a Sunday morning television testimonial where the preacher cries out "Look at all I've been through and I still believe in God." In fact, out of curiosity I visited Jenkins' website (leroyjenkins.com) and had to chuckle when I saw the advertisement for "God's Miracle Drink."

I find myself intrigued by Rev. Jenkins, and I'm half hoping he'll find his way to this review. If so, Rev. Jenkins, I hereby invite you to e-mail me and I'd love to interview you for a column. I think we'd have a marvelous conversation. Whether you are a true man of God or the con that many believe you to be, you deserved a better film than "The Calling."
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
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