Ben Crawford and Colin Jones
CONCEIVED AND DIRECTED BY
Warner Brothers VOD
Not to be confused with Jesse Eisenberg's Hasidic drug-smuggling flick of the same name, Bryan Storkel's pop doc Holy Rollers follows a group of card-counting Christians, yes Christians, known as The Church Team.
There's a fairly decent chance that you've just now reached a conclusion that - a) I can gamble? Maybe I will become a Christian, b) They're not Christians if they're justifying gambling in "the name of the Lord," or c) Sounds weird, but who am I to judge?
The Church Team is comprised of a group of young, vehemently anti-system young people that includes pastors and church leaders who are toiling away in full-time jobs struggling to find time to actually do their pastoring while handling their financial responsibilities.
Strangely enough, the possibility that they are not, in fact, called into ministry never seems to enter their minds. But, of course, we all know that Christians can be a remarkably ego-centric group of folks.
The Church Team is remarkably successful at times, pulling down a $1.58 million profit one year, while tremendously failing in other years with losses piling up. As the group's success groups, the group itself expands and, at one point, even includes a non-believer!
Where Storkel's film really succeeds is in terms of sheer entertainment value. This is a pop doc, the term I affectionately use for less probing and more entertainment-oriented documentaries. If you're hoping that Storkel will delve into the theological implications of this entire set-up, you're going to be massively disappointed. If you're hoping that Storkel will be at least mildly confrontational with these card-counters as they firmly place their actions within the realm of the sacred, you're definitely going to be disappointed.
However, if you simply want to be entertained by a unique story that is endlessly captivating then Holy Rollers is the film for you.
Storkel incorporates a wealth of interviews with the card counters, with some coming off rather sadly as followers who find themselves more than a little bewildered that this could be a remotely justifiable activity. There are other times when Storkel's lack of confrontation is maddening, most especially when someone is spouting for the umpteenth time "I'm a Christian" and Storkel isn't bothering to ask "But what does that really mean for you?"
"I'm a Christian" has been used to justify wars, domestic violence, sexual abuse, greed, political campaigns and much more. Saying "I'm a Christian" and "Casinos are bad" simply isn't enough. While it is not my place to judge another's faith journey, nearly any Christian will tell you and accept that it is our place to hold each other accountable for maintaining an authentic faith journey while recognizing that there will be theological differences along the way. It would have been possible for Storkel to maintain a non-judgmental attitude towards The Church Team while doing a more in-depth probe into what they clearly regard as accepted spiritual disciplines.
Storkel interviews on a more limited basis those with the casinos and security details who try to catch The Church Team in action (For those not in the now, "card counting" is considered quite the bad thing by casinos). He also incorporates an abundance of pop culture media blips that provide pleasant transitions throughout the film.
While Holy Rollers is an engaging and entertaining film, evidenced by its multiple festival awards and $10,000 prize from the Arclight Theater in Hollywood, it's simply not a probing one. It's sort of a Michael Moore meets Morgan Spurlock glimpse inside the world of The Church Team. It's probably worth noting that both Moore and Spurlock are two of the more financially successful documentarians, so it's a viable approach if not a wholly satisfying one intellectually.
Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians is available on Video on Demand thanks to a distribution agreement with Warner Brothers, further proof positive of its likely mass appeal. For more information, visit the film's official website linked to in the credits to the left of this review.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic