Some movies are hilarious and even endearing because of their silliness. Take, for example, Napoleon Dynamite by Jared and Jerusha Hess. Other movies are just plain stupid. Don Verdean, also written by Team Hess and directed by Jared, is the latter. Too bad, because the premise has potential: Verdean (Sam Rockwell) is a “biblical archeologist” hellbent on proving Christianity—apparently through science. When he accepts a patronage of sorts from aggressive Tony Lazarus (Danny McBride), founder of an evangelical church named after himself, Verdean is slowly sucked into a big fat lie that spirals out of control. He goes along with it for the purported not to mention dubious aim of “inspiring” faith. Needless to say, things get sticky.
There are some funny moments here, like an Israeli police officer (Yaniv Moyal) reading Verdean the riot act for digging in the desert without a permit; a cringeworthy date between Verdean’s assistant, Carol (Amy Ryan), and his Israeli guide, Boax (Jemaine Clement); and ex-hooker Mrs. Lazarus (Leslie Bibb) performing an outrageous ditty about not ending up like Lot’s wife. Ryan plays Carol with the right balance of sweetness and tragedy, and Will Forte as Pastor Fontaine, former Satan worshipper and Lazarus’s nemesis, is a breath of comic fresh air. Everything else– the story, the execution, even the acting– falls flat. Clement is a terrible Jew, and his weird French-sounding accent is fucking annoying. The jokes are not funny, the characters are tiresome, and the story gets old fast. Don Verdean feels like a lame ripoff of Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show). Easter mass is more entertaining than this. Yawn.
(Gene Siskel Film Center) D