Review: 'Don Verdean' Starring Sam Rockwell, Amy Ryan, And Jemaine Clement

It continues to be diminishing returns from Napoleon Dynamite director, Jared Hess; which is saying something since that overhyped and overrated goofball comedy isn't very good. Hess always comes up with ideas that are completely out of left field, such as his previous film nobody saw, Gentlemen Broncos, but he seems to rely on that to be enough without making them very funny.  The same thing applies to his religious comedy, Don Verdean, a poor attempt to spoof evangelicals and their mindless, desperate followers. Should be an easy target, right? And yet Hess, along with his wife and writing partner Jerusha, fail to summon a single laugh.

Sporting a talent-rich cast of Sam Rockwell, Jemaine Clement, Amy Ryan, Danny McBride, and Will Forte, Don Verdean is a film that thinks it is much funnier and smarter than it actually is. Rockwell, back in con-man mode where he's arguably at his best, plays the titular archaeologist scamming the devout into believing he's found significant religious artifacts. We're introduced to him through one of those grainy TV infomercials from the '80s, which normally would be enough to ward anyone off from his services.  But alas he's able to convince a fundamentalist preacher named Tony Lazarus (McBride) to bankroll his expeditions in order to thwart the sudden popularity of an ex-Satanist (Forte).

Don Verdean aims for satire but isn't particularly interested in being clever, so it just falls flat and stays that way, even as Don's adventures grow more ridiculous. With the help of his true-believer assistant (Amy Ryan) and a gruff, thick-accented Israeli associate (Clement, having more fun than anyone), Don resorts to desperate measures to convince Lazarus and other gullible followers he's found holy relics. So what if the supposed "pillar of salt" that is supposedly Lot's wife appears to have a penis?   People believe what they want to believe, and Don is a master of selling crap to the willfully ignorant. But none of it is particularly amusing; except for one random gag about the Holy Grail and Indiana Jones, only worth a chuckle because of its pop culture significance. It's depressing to see Rockwell on such a low simmer here. Sure, he gets to play around with Don's cynicism a little bit but the screenplay doesn't take it nearly far enough.  Despite a great cast and a premise that is at least unique, there aren't enough prayers in the world to make Don Verdean worth spending your time on.

Rating: 2 out of 5