RottenTomatoes.com freshness score: 66.7%
9 reviews counted: 6 positive; 3 negative
"The R.M." on RT.c: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/TheRM-10002292/reviews.php
[In the table below, the column labeled "RT.c" shows a plus or minus sign, indicating whether the RottenTomatoes.com website rated the review mainly positive (+) or negative (-). Reviews with nothing in the "RT.c" column (that is, they have no plus or minus by them, were not catalogued by the RottenTomatoes.com website, and are not included in the RottenTomatoes.com score.]
|North County Times / The Californian||Pam Kragen||A-||92|
|St. George Spectrum / Made About Movies||Bruce Bennett||+||B+||84|
|Las Vegas Weekly||Kate Silver||4 stars (for Latter-day Saints) |
2.5 stars (for the rest of us)
|Tooele Transcript-Bulletin||Audrey Rock-Richardson||+||B||75|
|Utah County Daily Herald||Eric D. Snider||+||B-||67|
|Ogden Standard-Examiner||Steve Salles||2 1/2 stars (out of 4)||63|
|Meridian Magazine||Thomas C. Baggaley||2 1/2 stars (out of 4)||63|
|Talking Pictures||Tony Toscano||+||2 1/2 stars (out of 4)||63|
|Seattle Post-Intelligencer||William Arnold||+||C+||59|
|Sacramento News & Review||Jim Lane||+||3 stars (out of 5)||56|
|The Scroll (BYU-Idaho)||Patricia Selman||3 stars (out of 5)||56|
|Sacramento Bee||Joe Baltake||-||2 stars (out of 4)||50|
|Salt Lake Tribune||Sean P. Means||-||2 stars (out of 4)||50|
|Deseret News||Jeff Vice||-||2 stars (out of 4)||50|
|Salt Lake City Weekly||Scott Renshaw||2 stars (out of 4)||50|
|Adam Mast Movie Reviews||Adam Mast||C||50|
|GetOut Magazine (Arizona)||Craig Outhier||D+||34|
|Ke Alaka'i (BYU-Hawaii)||Chalyce Teeples||D+||34|
|Las Vegas Mercury||Anthony Allison||1/2 star (out of 5)||6|
The following reviews were given a positive/negative (+/-) rating by RottenTomatoes.com, but did not have a letter or number grade:
The following movies are not scored (+/-) by RottenTomatoes.com, nor do they have letter/number/star grades:
|Salt Lake Tribune||Robert Kirby||positive|
|College Times (Utah Valley State College)||Andrew Robison||negative|
* * [2 out of 4 stars]
"From the makers of The Singles Ward" -- are you cringing yet? Well, cut Kurt Hale and company a little slack, because they seem to be learning -- slowly but surely -- that a comedy should have actual jokes and not just signifiers of Mormon culture. Kirby Heyborne stars as the titular returned missionary Jared Phelps, whose re-introduction to the real world proves considerably bumpier than he anticipated. And yes, that means plenty more gags about Relief Society, food storage, Elders Quorum and LDS scriptures that would leave many a gentile scratching his head, plus some leaden slapstick. But some of the humor and supporting performances actually work as more than a huge in-joke, and Heyborne's an appealing self-effacing presence in the lead role. Is there a Stake Amateur Hour quality still present in much of the content and filmmaking style? Sure, but you've seen plenty of less-amusing comedies come out of Hollywood. And if that's darning with faint praise, so be it.
Opens Jan. 31 at theaters valley-wide.
It used to be that if a Mormon character appeared on film, it was someone like "Paint Your Wagon"'s Jacob Woodling: A bearded man in black coat and hat who rode into No-Name City with his two wives. He left one of them behind, shaking up the all-male prospecting town.
It's hard to slam the 1969 Western musical; after all, it features a singing Clint Eastwood. All the same, these days Mormons are writing their own scripts, depicting themselves in their own way and taking their own heat from the critics.
For their part, critics have had plenty to say. Even Richard Dutcher, whose "God's Army" was the first of a string of LDS movies, has been publicly disapproving of the movies that followed in the genre.
"The Singles Ward" director Kurt Hale said Utah critics were not always kind. His company, HaleStorm Entertainment, will release "The RM" tomorrow. This time, Hale said, "We kind of hope they give us a more fair shake."
Orson Scott Card, a long-time champion of LDS art, laughs off the criticism of Mormon film, but at the same time he cautions that when the novelty of LDS films wears off, quality will have to carry the genre.
Card is an award-winning author who has published in both mainstream and LDS markets. His mainstream work includes the science fiction "Homecoming" series and "Ender's Game," a book that is being developed for a movie of its own, according to Card's website. He spoke to The Herald Journal by telephone interview.
"God's Army" came to Card's town in North Carolina, he said, and he applauded the movie. It was courageous work, he said, and it created a genre. He hopes the success can continue, following in the footsteps of LDS printed media.
Mormon fiction didn't exist until the 1970s, he said; now it's a real genre.
Jack Weyland's novel "Charly" has even been made into an LDS movie.
Card would like to see Mormon film enjoy the same success that LDS fiction has seen. The fact that there are Mormon films means two things about Mormon culture, Card said: First, Mormons have become diverse enough to accept seeing opinions on-screen that might differ from their own. A successful Mormon film will still have to be loyal to the faith, he said, but people are less easily offended than they once were.
Second, the rash of Mormon films shows that Mormons are numerous enough to support the genre. Without a "critical mass," he said, the films would never re-coup their production costs.
Card grew up knowing Mormon films could fail; his grandfather, Lester Park, made "Corianton" in 1931. It tanked. Why? "The audience was too small, the rigidity (of the audience) was too great, and the film wasn't very good," Card said.
This time, too, the novelty could wear off. Fifteen or 20 years ago Mormon musicals hit the stage, some sweeping into the Mormon world beyond Utah. (Church members will probably remember "Saturday's Warrior" and "My Turn on Earth.")
The movement fizzled. "Where are the big blockbuster plays of the last 15 years?" Card asked. "We didn't keep putting on plays that kept getting better and better."
For HaleStorm Entertainment, "The RM" will be the acid test, said Hale. If it works, maybe Mormon comedy will have a franchise.
HaleStorm Publicity Director Jed Ivie said the genre is new and has a long way to go. He predicts that LDS films will have successes and flops, like any other genre. In the days leading up to "The RM"'s release, he seemed to be bracing himself for the reviews. While extending an invitation to a screening of the movie, he cautioned that most of the audience would be critics.
They're a small crowd, he said, and they don't laugh much, so bear in mind that it's best to see a comedy in a theater full of happy people.
It's safe to say that "The RM" isn't the next "Gone With the Wind." But it made even the small group of critics giggle now and again.
Like HaleStorm's earlier release, it's crammed full of Mormon insider jokes. (The main character drowns his sorrow in a Diet Coke after his girlfriend dumps him; his parents have 11 children with another on the way; he goes to a cinema where a promotional poster for "God's Navy" is displayed; it goes on and on.)
But Hale thinks LDS audiences also like his work for what it doesn't have. His movies aren't soaked in sex and body fluids. "From our perspective it's refreshing to go to something and not feel like you have to take a shower after," he said.
Success isn't necessarily meted out by critics; the box office is where it counts. "The Singles Ward" was successful enough to gross $1.3 million, and it cost $500,000 to make. It wasn't Hollywood, but it was a decent margin.
Hale said audiences were slow to respond to The Singles Ward. Mormons were suspicious at first, but when they saw that the movie made fun of the Mormon culture without laughing at its doctrine, they liked it.
A Mormon himself, Hale said there is nothing funny about LDS doctrine. The culture, however, has a lot of peculiarities that he finds "worth examining." And while the movie played mostly to LDS audiences in Utah, it drew a mixed audience in Southern California.
The critics outside of Utah were kinder, too, Hale said.
What do Utahns say? The Singles Ward was to real Mormon life what "Men in Tights" was to Robin Hood, said Erin Dearing, a Utah State University student from West Jordan.
I think any time people make films about themselves and make fun of themselves, that's fun," said Tony Toscano, host and executive producer of "Talking Pictures." (Toscano's syndicated show is based in Salt Lake and airs on 200 stations; locally it's on Saturday nights on KJZZ). When he's critiquing a film, he asks if it's worth the cost of a ticket, a babysitter and a night out to dinner. In his opinion The Singles Ward made the cut. Herald Journal movie critic Andy Morgan liked the film's irreverence. Mormons have a reputation as stuffed shirts, he said; "The Singles Ward" challenged that notion.
Whatever "The Singles Ward" made the outside world think about the Mormon one, USU students Logan Wood and Katrina Lyman were happier with the comedy than they were with "God's Army." Both Wood and Lyman are returned missionaries; both objected to the film's portrayal of mission life.
But as long as someone keeps making Mormon movies that are worth seeing, Wood and Lyman will keep going to them. Mormon life and Mormon history could provide a lot of material, they said; filmmakers won't run out of stories.
** [2 out of 4 stars]
Some improvement from "The Singles Ward" crew, but still an amateur effort.
Rated PG for some thematic elements; 102 minutes.
Opening today at area theaters.
When you spend $400,000 to make a movie, then make $1.25 million at the box office, the predictable response is to make another movie using the same formula.
That's what director Kurt Hale and his co-screenwriter, John E. Moyer, the Utah filmmakers behind "The Singles Ward," do with "The R.M.," another comedy targeted to locals looking for squeaky-clean LDS-themed entertainment.
Alas, their new movie bears many of the same problems as their first one: amateurish performances and production values, pointless local cameos and a parochially exclusionary tone that penetrates all the way to the movie's title. The good news is that the boys are learning filmcraft and show they can at least set up a humorous premise -- even if they don't yet know how to make it pay off.
The title, Latter-day Saint code for "returned missionary," refers to young Jared Phelps (Kirby Heyborne), who is completing his two-year stint seeking converts in Evanston, Wyo. He is preparing to return to Utah, his loving family, his faithful girlfriend Molly (Erin M. Robert), his old job and studying at BYU.
But Jared's plans fall short of reality. His girlfriend got engaged, his family has moved into a new house, his room is occupied by a Samoan exchange student (Leroy Te'o, a k a KISN-FM's "Big Buddha"), and his old boss (ex-Major Leaguer Wally Joyner) has left to start his own small business.
As for his BYU aspirations, Jared is encouraged by his Jack Mormon best pal Kori (Will Swenson, the lead in "The Singles Ward") to enroll at the U. and join Kori's beer-happy frat. Meanwhile, Jared meets Kelly (Britani Bateman), who makes his heart flutter -- especially when he learns her father is a General Authority.
Hale and Moyer's script has flashes of humor -- like the scene where Jared tries to return the engagement ring meant for Molly, and the jewelry-store clerk listens to his plight with a bartender's sympathy. But many jokes play out longer than necessary. For example, when Joyner's character and his wife (Sherry Leigh) start describing their new business -- Utahweddings.com -- as if starring in their own infomercial, it's funny for a few seconds, but the joke goes on until it turns into an informercial.
The Utah celebrity cameos are plentiful. A few have some nice irony (hey, who wouldn't want to see LDS boy band Jericho Road behind bars?), but others -- like WB morning star Mitch English or Utah actor Scott Christopher -- are embarrassingly unfunny.
"The R.M." makes strides toward universality -- the central conflict between Jared and Kori, though a bit smarmy, nicely transcends LDS jargon -- but too often plays to its built-in audience. "The R.M." shows Hale & Co. at a crossroads: Start reaching to a crossover audience or stagnate until their LDS fans get bored with the same old stuff.
** 1/2 [2 1/2 stars out of 4]
I've got to hand it to director Kurt Hale. He's got the whole poking-fun-at-Mormon-idiosyncrasies down pat.
What he still needs to work on is the other stuff -- story pacing and controlling over-the-top actors.
Fortunately, he and his crew are headed in the right direction -- minus the rare trip over a food-storage container or two.
This time, he takes us into the world of the returning LDS missionary. Elder Jared Phelps (Kirby Heyborne) is back from a successful experience in the Evanston, Wyo., mission (wow, did he get the short straw).
He has visions of choirs singing, girlfriends leaping and a host of others rejoicing at his homecoming -- but no one is waiting at the airport.
He catches a bus home only to find his parents have sold their house to a frightened fellow who is more than a little shocked to see Elder Phelps climbing up to the bathroom window.
With 11 children and one more on the way, Brigham and Emma Phelps (Merrill Dodge and Tracy Ann Evans) have mistaken Jared's release date for a month later. Undaunted, he heads to the house of his girlfriend, who has waited for him faithfully these two, long years.
A quick stop by the jewelers to pick up a ring and he's ready for that big moment when she'll rush into his arms and say those words he's been waiting to hear -- "Yes, of course I'll marry you!"
Instead, he gets, "What are you doing home so soon?"
This is not going well -- but wait until he gets to his new home. His parents have given up his room to a quiet Tongan exchange student (Leroy "Big Budah" Te'o). Jared is forced to sleep on a mattress placed over containers of wheat, beans and freeze-dried ice cream. So far I'm liking this. The family is funny and quirky. Jared has that perfect hangdog look of a loser, and his world is caving in around him.
It illustrates well the trauma of return missionaries adjusting to the real world -- with several comical exaggerations. But then it hits what I call the wall of pagan stupidity.
The movie profiles Jared's melodramatic "bad" friend who beguiles him into a compromising situation -- and anyone in their right mind would never have jumped to the conclusions his family, his neighbors, the police and his potential love interest come to -- and then to take that three-ring circus to court? Ridiculous.
Which brings us to Scott Christopher's performance as the prosecuting attorney. What in heaven's name was he thinking? His scene-chewing display of lunacy was so bad, it almost single-handedly crushed the life out of the film.
But I stepped back, took a deep breath, considered the recommended "eternal perspective" and decided there was more good here than bad. So I cut "The R.M." a little slack -- with a suggestion that there's still plenty of room for improvement.
THE FILM: "The R.M."
OUR RATING: ** 1/2
STARRING: Kirby Heyborne, Will Swenson, Michael Birkeland, Britani Bateman, Merrill Dodge, Tracy Ann Evans and Leroy "Big Budah" Te"o
BEHIND THE SCENES: Co-written and directed by Kurt Hale ("The Single"s Ward"). Olympic wrestler Rulon Gardner has a very brief cameo.
PLAYING: Layton Tinseltown, Newgate Tinseltown. Runs 102 minutes.
MPAA RATING: PG
This time, HaleStorm Entertainment won't have to make up quotes from movie critics to use in its advertising.
"The R.M.," HaleStorm's follow-up to the amateurish "Singles Ward," is an altogether amusing, nongrating, nonstupid comedy. It benefits from solid acting and sharp, good-natured humor. The script, again by John E. Moyer and Kurt Hale, is more focused than last time, and so are the cameras. It's an altogether enjoyable film -- not without its flaws, and some of them significant, but diverting nonetheless.
Kirby Heyborne, who played a soon-to-be missionary in "Singles Ward," is back as a different character, Jared Phelps, just returned from the Wyoming Evanston South Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the airport, he finds no one to greet him. At home, he finds his parents have moved and forgotten to tell him. At his girlfriend's house, he finds she is engaged to someone else.
With the exception of the last point, Jared's problems thus far are unbelievable, which makes it hard to find humor in them. (You have to believe a thing could happen before you can laugh at it.) But the film, directed by Kurt Hale, picks up steam from there, realistically and comedically conveying the frustration many returned missionaries feel as they adapt to the real world. I will even accept the airport-no-shows and the moving-without-telling because they set the tone for the film: This will be a one-thing-after-another comedy, where things continue to get worse for the protagonist despite the seeming fact that they couldn't possibly get worse.
Jared's family includes multiple children and two extremely busy but loving parents (Tracy Ann Evans and Merrill Dodge). Mom is pregnant, while the oldest sister, Sariah (Maren Ord), is about to marry a doofus named Duey (Michael Birkeland). Jared's lifelong friend, the fun-loving Kori ("Singles Ward" star Will Swenson), wants to hang out with him, but Jared worries about the influence Kori will have over him.
There are troubles with girls and employment, too, but most of the conflict is internal as Jared struggles to determine how, exactly, serving a mission has blessed him, when everything seems to have been screwed up by his going. These are weighty issues of faith, and while the film doesn't resolve them very well -- in the end, I can't tell why Jared has reached the conclusion he has -- it at least portrays his struggle convincingly.
"The R.M.'s" best asset is Heyborne, who has a likable Everyman quality as Jared. His resolution despite constant setbacks, with an expression of growing weariness about his face, is both funny and appealing. When the film becomes too dramatic in its last act, Heyborne carries it well.
Swenson, who almost made "Singles Ward" tolerable, is good again as Kori, and Tracy Ann Evans gets more than her share of laughs as Jared's indefatigable dynamo of a mother. Britani Bateman is charismatic as Kelly, Jared's new love interest.
The celebrity cameos are kept to a minimum this time and do not generally get in the way of the story. The soundtrack, which again features familiar LDS tunes re-cast in modern styles, is fun on its own but distracting within the film. Johnny Biscuit played the most annoying character in "Singles Ward"; this time it is TV personality Scott Christopher, who is embarrassingly unfunny as an attorney, badly dragging down the film's finale.
But then there are the plusses. One of the best gags involves Jared's visit to a jewelry store to return his ex-girlfriend's engagement ring. I won't spoil it for you, but it cleverly juxtaposes LDS culture with that of the outside world, taking what is familiar to viewers -- "it's funny because it's true" -- and tweaking it enough to earn real laughs.
Jared's parents' involvement in selling a Nu Skin-type product, some ward members' commercial for a wedding Web site, his experiences as a telemarketer -- these are legitimately funny sequences, and the first half of the film, especially, is a treat to watch.
What separates "The R.M." most from "The Singles Ward" is its attitude. In "The Singles Ward," things were thrown haphazardly onto the screen with regard only for whether the filmmakers thought they were funny. There was a smugness about it: If you don't laugh, there must be something wrong with YOU.
"The R.M.," on the other hand, reaches out to its audience and actually wants to be liked. It is not a great film, but it's a good one, a pleasant one. The parts that make you laugh outnumber the parts that make you roll your eyes. B-
THE R.M. -- ** [2 out of 4 stars] -- Kirby Heyborne, Will Swenson, Britani Bateman, Tracy Ann Evans, Merrill Dodge, Michael Birkeland, Maren Ord; rated PG (slapstick violence, vulgarity); see "Playing at local movie theaters" for complete listing of local theaters.
"The R.M." looks and sounds a lot more like a real motion picture than the filmmakers' freshman effort, "The Singles Ward."
Besides the obvious technical improvements, filmmakers (especially director/co-screenwriter Kurt Hale) have also made great leaps in the areas of storytelling and character development. In fact, the first third of this silly, sporadically amusing comedy comes as a really pleasant surprise.
Then, however, the film takes an ill-advised -- and pretty serious -- turn for the dramatic, which makes its 100 minutes seem much, much longer. And the final third is even more sketchy, right down to its all-too-inevitable happy ending.
"The R.M." ("returned missionary," for the uninitiated) refers to Jared Phelps (Kirby Heyborne), an LDS missionary who returns home to Provo from Wyoming (he served his mission in Evanston) to find that nothing is as he expects it. Neither a big brass band nor a welcoming committee is there to meet him at the airport, since his family mixed up his return date. Worse, they moved and didn't tell him.
Meanwhile, his best friend Kori (Will Swenson) seems to have fallen away from the church, and the job Jared was counting on has fallen through. Worst of all, his supposedly faithful sweetheart (Erin M. Robert) is engaged to another man.
Give Jared credit for trying to pick up the pieces. And there's at least one good development: Pretty coed Kelly Powers (Britani Bateman) seems genuinely interested in him. But even that may be doomed, thanks to Kori's bad influence.
The film is most successful when it's trying to replicate the "Airplane!" strategy: throwing as many jokes as possible at the wall to see what sticks. However, it's simply a case of trying to do too much.
The cast is fairly good. Heyborne is likable and engaging, and "Singles Ward" star Swenson succeeds in a much different role. Meanwhile, the camera absolutely loves newcomer Bateman.
But cameos by local celebrities are less successful. Radio personality Leroy "Big Buddha" Te'o is amusing as a Tongan exchange student, and a fantasy music video with Jericho Road is worth a giggle. But the bit with former local weatherman Mitch English is awful, and the excruciating supporting turn by Scott Christopher is even worse.
"The R.M." is rated PG for scenes of slapstick violence (some vehicular mayhem, an animal "attack" and a violent "misunderstanding") and vulgarity (some innuendo regarding jail time). Running time: 102 minutes.
It may not qualify as scripture, but one latter-day revelation becomes abundantly clear upon watching "The R.M." the follow-up (NOT sequel, read on) from the team that brought you "The Singles Ward." The LDS church and its culture provide a startling amount of inside jokes and for those who get them the "R.M." will give its target audience plenty to smile about.
Returning from a mission to Evanston, Wyoming, Jared Phelps (Kirby Heyborne) doesn't quite receive the rock star's welcome he is expecting-in fact no family or friends are there to greet him-and things go downhill from there. The first 45 minutes or so are a non-stop barrage of humorous gags at Jared's expense highlighting the difficult transition from full-time gospel messenger to "Returned Missionary." ("R.M.")
Anyone who has served a mission or who knows an "R.M." will appreciate and enjoy how director Kurt Hale with help from co-writer John E. Moyer skewer nearly every facet of the Mormon lifestyle treading carefully so as not to crossover into anything blatantly offensive or sacrilegious.
Much of "R.M.'s success, however, is due in large part to Heyborne's winning portrayal as a lovable loser with a cherub smile and comical expressions that never wear out their welcome. It pays to watch for shenanigans in the background such as Jared's goofy reactions, funny comments written on Sunday School chalkboards or LDS-themed takes on movie posters. Delightful devils in the details make "R.M." worth a second viewing.
Fans of "The Singles Ward" may get thrown for a loop expecting "R.M." to be a sequel since many of the same actors return but play different roles. Most distracting is Jared's world-wise friend Kori played by talented Will Swenson who you'll recall was the likable protagonist in the previous film. It's a case of mixed association carrying over involving two films that really are separate.
Only a few gags are overtly silly or stale (bad hairpieces and Elvis impersonators among them) as the film contains enough fresh inspiration (The Book of Mormon restaurant) to overcome the slow down in momentum when "R.M." takes on the tricky area of its more serious material (drunk driving and a particularly awkward court scene).
We'll even forgive the shameless product placements in a film that was made on a shoestring budget. Next time with more money at their disposal (Halestorm is in pre-production on "Church Ball") hopefully we'll get less advertising and a better crop of supporting actors.
Among all the frivolity that admittedly will be best appreciated by those close to its faith, "R.M." proves that Mormons have a unique and healthy willingness to laugh at themselves. It would be hard to name any culture or race that takes more pride in poking fun at itself, a fact not lost in these days of political correctness and over-sensitivity.
Even with its shortcomings, "R.M." is hard not to like as family entertainment (almost a lost art unto itself) and though the genre is still in its incipient stages, "R.M." can claim the title of funniest LDS-based movie to date. And the rockin' soundtrack with contemporary interpretations of familiar church songs is a hoot and may outsell the movie.
By this time next year, Kirby Heyborne may have appeared in six motion pictures, all of them about Latter-day Saints, all of them shot in Utah, and all without the aid of a high-priced Hollywood agent.
"I don't want to get pinned into the Mormon cinema thing, but while it's around, it's good," said Heyborne, 26, who lives in Sandy with his wife and young son.
The recent flurry of films about the culture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been good indeed for Heyborne. In "The Singles Ward," he played a young Mormon who was thrilled to receive a mission call to Boise, Idaho, getting laughs in a film that went on to gross more than $1.2 million at the box office, making it the third highest-grossing Mormon-centered film so far (after "The Other Side of Heaven" and "God's Army"). He has the starring role in "The R.M.," which opens today and which, like "Singles Ward," was directed by Kurt Hale and written by Hale and John Moyer.
Between now and June, he will shoot "Saints of War" ["Saints and Soldiers"], set during World War II, and the mission-themed "Best Two Years of My Life." He is also tentatively appearing in a film based on the first part of the Book of Mormon, as well as in Moyer and Hale's "Home Teachers."
A year ago, Heyborne was selling life insurance and mutual funds. ("It was boring," he said matter-of-factly.) He had acted in school and in community theater, but "then I got married and decided I'd better get a business degree to support the family. So I put everything on hold."
He said his wife, Trisha, whom he married five years ago, encouraged him to finally go for it. He auditioned for "The Singles Ward" and soon found himself part of a Utah phenomenon.
"It's amazing, I never thought it would be such a cult hit," he said. "People are quoting lines from it, kids are coming up to me and saying, 'You went to Boise! Hee hee!' It's huge. It's cult."
Heyborne, affable and good-natured in conversation, said that while he realizes his fame doesn't extend very far beyond the borders of Utah, it's a little disconcerting to be noticed so much here.
"Now that the posters are up for 'The R.M.,' people really recognize me," he said. "I love making people feel special, taking the time to say hi to them, but when you're there with your family trying to get somewhere, it's kind of intrusive."
After "Singles Ward," director Hale said Heyborne was a shoo-in for "The R.M."
"He was just so natural in front of the camera," Hale said. "So much of his ability lies in his body language, his face. He didn't even read for 'R.M.' When we were writing it, he came to mind immediately. We thought, 'This is Kirby all the way.' "
Hale also praised Heyborne's professionalism.
"He's a standout in that he takes his craft very seriously, coming memorized and all," he said. "I think that's part of why he's getting so much work."
Heyborne is already making a living at acting, doing some voice work and commercials in addition to the film roles, and he doesn't rule out a move to Los Angeles at some point.
"I like to think people see that I work hard, that I'm professional," he said. "I want to make this my career. I hope they see that I'm rising. I want to get better with each performance."
In response to the critics who panned "The Singles Ward," he is diplomatic.
"You look at Adam Sandler, he very rarely gets more than half a star, but people go back and see the comedies," he said. "People like to laugh, and critics have their opinions."
That said, he feels "The R.M." is a better film. "A lot of people might think I'm biased, but I think it's a lot funnier than 'Singles Ward,' " he said. "It's not as many inside jokes. It's more character-based than Mormonism-based."
Hale is hopeful that "The R.M.," which opens on 15 Utah screens today and will spread out from there, can duplicate at least some of the success of "The Singles Ward."
" 'Singles Ward' is just a weird thing," he said. "It's not a great film, we can all agree on that, but it hit cult status. People were going back and seeing it 12 or 15 times. Yeah, we're hoping lightning will strike twice."
"The comedy is more situational," he said. "We took a lot of heat (with 'Singles Ward') for being too insider. Hopefully we can kind of bridge that gap here."
If the success of "The R.M." is anything close to what "The Singles Ward" experienced, Heyborne will be even more noticeable. Putting things in perspective, he said, "I'm going to be one of the most recognizable faces in Mormon comedy ... which is only two movies, really."
According to its makers, the success of the locally produced comedy "The Singles Ward" may have been a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
"We got lucky," director Kurt Hale said. "We somehow managed to capture lightning in a bottle the first time out. The movie became sort of a cult hit. People were going to see it 10 or 12 times, which is just ridiculous."
"The Singles Ward" made nearly $1.5 million during its limited theatrical run last year. And on videotape and DVD, the film sold more than 100,000 copies. That puts a lot of pressure on Hale and his cohorts to succeed with their follow-up comedy, "The R.M.," which opens in local theaters today.
"We knew that we couldn't continue to rely on luck. We knew we really had to work hard if we were going to catch that lightning again," Hale said during an interview at Jordan Commons, where he was showing his new film to critics.
"The R.M." tells the story of Jared Phelps (Kirby Heyborne), an LDS missionary whose homecoming isn't as happy as he hoped it would be. Hale said it's a story that could appeal to a wider audience -- though his target is still LDS moviegoers. "While some of this material may not be universal, the general concept of the movie is. I mean, what kid hasn't left home, built up in his mind how great home really was and then returned to find that things are a lot different?"
"The R.M." reunites Hale with much of his "Singles Ward" cast and crew, including stars Heyborne, Will Swenson and Michael Birkeland, producer Dave Hunter, co-screenwriter John E. Moyer, director of photographer Ryan Little and film editor Wynn Hougaard. "It's a lot of fun to work with all of those guys. There's a certain level of trust and comfort. Besides, it's not fair to try to make a better movie without them."
If that last statement sounds like a concession to local critics, who really unloaded on this first movie, it is. "That was pretty hard. I know you're not supposed to take these things personally, but it seemed like we got really hammered locally.
"And I do know that comedy doesn't go over as well with critics, so maybe we were sort of asking for it. But I'm very interested in hearing what they have to say this time around. I'm very proud of this film."
The HaleStorm crew started pre-production on "The R.M." even while "The Singles Ward" was still in theaters. It was shot last summer, again mostly in Utah County, and for roughly the same budget -- less than $500,000.
"It was more of the same," Hale said. "Fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants filmmaking. You do the best you can with a limited budget."
Hale said he and Hunter took a close look at "The Singles Ward" to see "what worked and what didn't." Still, he knows who he really has to please. And it's not the critics; it's the audience. "They're the folks who pay $7 to see our little movies. And that's the same $7 they could be using to see (the 'Lord of the Rings' movies). So we've got to try to give them as much bang for their bucks as possible."
Hale already has his next project lined up, a comedy he hopes to shoot this summer and have ready for release next January. (The rumored title is "The Home Teachers").
After that, things are up in the air. Hale admits a certain fondness for horror movies and said he's actually considering making an LDS-centric horror-comedy. "Maybe you'd better not print that," he said with a sheepish grin.
He also admitted that he feels a certain pressure to succeed. While attending Brigham Young University, his roommate was actor Aaron Eckhart, who's gone on to bigger things, co-starring with Julia Roberts in her Oscar-winner, "Erin Brockovich," and landing the lead role in the big-budget summer science-fiction thriller "The Core."
"We're still friends. Thanks to Aaron, I went on the set of 'The Core' in Wendover and got to see what a real movie looks like," Hale said with a laugh.
PHOTO CAPTION: Kurt Hale and crew filmed "R.M." last summer in Utah County.