RottenTomatoes.com freshness score: 50%
8 reviews counted: 4 positive; 4 negative
[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.]
|Utah Statesman (Utah State University)||Joseph Dougherty||A||100|
|Ke Alaka'i (BYU-Hawaii)||Kristen Woodworth||A||100|
|Bryce's Movie Domain||Bryce||3 1/2 stars (out of 4)||88|
|The Scroll (BYU-Idaho)||Lindsie Taylor||4 stars (out of 5)||78|
|The Spokesman-Review||Dan Webster||3 stars (out of 4)||75|
|North County Times (San Diego, CA)||Pam Kragen||B||75|
|Steve Rhodes' Internet Reviews||Steve Rhodes||+||3 stars (out of 4)||75|
|St. George Spectrum||Bruce Bennett||B-||67|
|Sacramento Bee||Joe Baltake||2 1/2 stars (out of 4)||63|
|Ogden Standard-Examiner||Steve Salles||2 1/2 stars (out of 4)||63|
|Seattle Post-Intelligencer||William Arnold||+||C+||59|
|Boxoffice Magazine||Wade Major||3 stars (out of 5)||56|
|Deseret News||Jeff Vice||-||2 stars (out of 4)||50|
|Seattle Times||Moira Macdonald||-||2 stars (out of 4)||50|
|Salt Lake City Weekly||Scott Renshaw||2 stars (out of 4)||50|
|Las Vegas Weekly||Kate Silver||C||50|
|Utah County Daily Herald/Land of Eric||Eric D. Snider||-||C-||42|
|Salt Lake Tribune||Sean P. Means||-||1 star (out of 4)||25|
The following reviews were given a positive/negative (+/-) rating by RottenTomatoes.com, but did not have a letter or number grade:
|Los Angeles New Times||Luke Y. Thompson||+|
|L.A. Weekly||Ron Stringer||+|
The following movies are not scored (+/-) by RottenTomatoes.com, nor do they have letter/number/star grades:
|Fresno Bee||Rick Bentley||positive|
|Utah County Journal||Laurie Williams Sowby||positive|
|Utah Valley State College College Times||Scott Champion||positive|
|Nitrate Online||Gregory Avery||positive|
|Las Vegas City Life||Megan Capehart||negative|
|Red Magazine||Rachael Sawyer||negative|
|Deseret News||Chris Hicks|
With the recent rise in Mormon-based films, you just knew it wouldn't be long before someone made a comedy.
After all, as the producer of "The Singles Ward" suggests, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is old enough now that it shouldn't mind some good-natured ribbing.
Apparently, many of its higher profile members agree, because a bunch offered cameo performances on its behalf.
You have Danny Ainge giving a team pep talk to a Primary class. Baseball star Wally Joyner drops by as a member of the bishopric. Basketball great Shawn Bradley makes a pit stop as a mechanic. Steve Young pokes fun at those over 25 who still aren't married. LaVell Edwards plays through on a miniature golf course. That's just to name a few.
The story actually focuses on Jonathan Jordan (Will Swenson), an inactive Mormon, recently divorced and living in Utah County.
His wife took up drinking and smoking and, as a result, packed up and left. Jonathan becomes a stand-up comedian and avoids going to his local ward because it's full of families and he feels out of place.
Many of his unmarried neighbors think the singles ward would be more to his liking. It's a collection of church members who meet with one goal in mind -- to find their soulmate for time and all eternity.
One brave sister calls one day, inviting Jonathan to display his comedic abilities at a ward talent show. He rudely suggests she use her nursing talents to come over and give him a sponge bath.
It turns out nurse Cammie is the cutest member of the singles ward, but after his mean comments on the phone, she wants nothing to do with him.
Jonathan has gone off the deep end. He's had MTV unblocked from his cable system (scandalous!) and makes fun of Mormons in his act.
The longer he and Cammie fight, the more you know they're destined to be together, but when she informs him she's accepted a mission call to Australia, Jonathan is devastated.
Will he come to his senses before it's too late? Will someone get caught spiking the ward punch bowl with Mountain Dew?
So what's up with the soundtrack? It's all old Primary songs and church tunes done in rock 'n' roll. You haven't heard "Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree" until you've heard it with a reggae beat.
Unlike other LDS-themed films of late that have begged for crossover attention, this one is aimed squarely at its target audience and doesn't hesitate to throw in references only Mormons would get.
I have to give "The Singles Ward" credit for its creativity, enthusiasm, occasional laughs and the performance of Swenson. He has that Dean Cain swagger and shows potential. However, the film's simple sets and two-dimensional staging make it look like a local production, which it is.
Still, hats off to "The Singles Ward." It should play well with Mormon audiences eager to chuckle at their own culture by someone on their side for a change.
THE FILM: "The Singles Ward"
OUR RATING: ** 1/2 [2 1/2 stars out of 4]
STARRING: Will Swenson, Michael Birkeland, Lincoln Hoppe, Gordon Jump, Wally Joyner, Steve Young and Johnny Biscuit
BEHIND THE SCENES: Co-written and directed by Kurt Hale in his feature-film debut
PLAYING: Layton Tinseltown, Westates. Runs 102 minutes.
MPAA RATING: PG
Don't look twice over your shoulder when heading into The Singles Ward -- it's not rated R. Just get ready to laugh.
Opening today at Movies 5 and around the state of Utah, The Singles Ward delivers to moviegoers exactly what it promises -- a laugh-out-loud comedy about the peculiarities of life in a singles ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Filmed in the Salt Lake City and Provo areas, The Singles Ward flows nicely with clean editing and a real story line. I have to admit I was a bit skeptical about another film jumping on the Mormon bandwagon after God's Army and Brigham City, but The Singles Ward was for real. Its 102 minutes roll by quickly.
The Singles Ward is packed with celebrity cameos like former BYU football coach LaVell Edwards, Danny Ainge, Wally Joyner, Steve Young, Shawn Bradley, Thurl Bailey, SuperDell from Totally Awesome Computers, Julie Stoffer of MTV's Real World and many more.
The Singles Ward introduces us to Jonathan Jordan, played by Will Swenson, whose other credits include Gaston in Disney's stage version of "Beauty and the Beast," Nick in the European tour of "Fame" and Chris in a nationally touring production of "Miss Saigon."
Jonathan is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who doesn't currently attend church and works as a stand-up comedian. He lives within the boundaries of a singles ward and plans to continue not attending until he falls for Cammie Giles, a member of the ward, played by Connie Young who was featured on Touched by an Angel in October as well as several local shows and commercials.
Jonathan tries to win Cammie over, but she sees through his insincerity. Despite the fact Jonathan drives her crazy, she begins to fall for him too. They have their challenges.
Jonathan struggles with the quirks of the local members, but begins to enjoy going to church again. Feelings between the two grow, and many scenes fall into that category of things all-too-familiar like the girl of one's dreams putting in her mission papers. Deja vu?
The soundtrack to the film features renditions of many hymns and primary songs of The Church of Jesus Christ. The arrangements are interesting and fun, but I had to ask myself, "Can they do that?"
According to the film's press kit, Gerry Hart, one of the music supervisors, said, "Kids can either rock out to music with questionable lyrics or they can rock out to tunes that celebrate God."
Bands who covered the hymns and songs in The Singles Ward include Slender, Magstatic, Mr. Fusion, Mismash, Pipedream, Mighty Mahogany, Rooster, Ponchillo, The Solutions, Soul Saints and The Rockamatics. Most of the bands hail from Utah, but two come from California.
Obviously, members of The Church of Jesus Christ are more apt to pick up on the more subtle jokes dealing with the opening of missionary calls, single-adult dances, creative asking out for dates and family home evening, but the film is also attracting the interest of people merely acquainted with the church.
Director Kurt Hale's first feature film really packs a punch, especially if you are able to laugh about Mormon quirks, like so-called "Mormon myths," wards numbering in the hundreds and Elders Quorum presidents. Sure, there are a bunch of people who don't know about any of this stuff and Hale told us that if people want to learn about the church, talk to the missionaries. The movie is just for fun.
The writers do a great job tying up the ends of the story into a nicely-packaged, funny, real film. Go see it. Get ready to laugh. The Singles Ward opens Friday at Movies 5, located at 2400 N. Main St. Take a date. After all, you may just go with your future companion.
Look for Hale's next films, The R.M., which will start production in May and Church Ball, which will be due out next year.
First it was "God's Army." Then came "Brigham City" and "The Other Side of Heaven."
Now a locally produced film called "The Singles Ward" is about to be released.
A group of LDS sports figures make cameos, including Shawn Bradley (a mechanic), Wally Joyner (Brother Angel), Danny Ainge (Sunbeam teacher), LaVell Edwards (a golfer -- what else?), Steve Young (Brother Niner -- get it?) and Thurl Bailey (a traveler).
Most interesting cast member, though, could be Ute football coach Ron McBride, who isn't LDS. An audio clip www.singleswardthemovie.com has McBride playing the father of a missionary whose boyfriend is trying to keep her from leaving.
In the clip, McBride says, "Is he completely out of his mind?"
Same line he used when Lance Rice tried to run it in against Air Force.
'Ward' Play: The LDS-themed romantic comedy "The Singles Ward" will have its world premiere screening at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons, 9335 S. State. Tickets are $20, available at Jordan Commons. Proceeds going to the National Kidney Foundation.
Kurt Hale -- grandson of Hale Center Theater founders Ruth and Nathan Hale -- directed and co-wrote (with stand-up comic John E. Moyer) this low-budget comedy, which tells of a divorced young man (Will Swenson) coping with life among the even-younger congregation at his LDS singles ward. The movie boasts a slew of cameos from celebrities with Utah or LDS ties: quarterback Steve Young, basketball stars Danny Ainge and Thurl Bailey, "God's Army" director Richard Dutcher, and Julie Stoffer, the ex-BYU student who appeared on "MTV's The Real World."
The movie opens in 12 theaters in Utah and Idaho on Friday, then rolls out wider. For information about the movie, go to its Web site, www. singleswardthemovie.com.
Go for the 'Gold': Before the Olympic rush for the gold, the Organ Loft will present Charlie Chaplin's 1925 classic comedy "The Gold Rush," Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m. The Organ Loft is at 3331 S. Edison, half a block east of State Street, in South Salt Lake City.
Chaplin's Little Tramp strikes out for the Klondike, where he meets a burly prospector (Salt Lake City native Mack Swain) and falls for a dance-hall girl (Georgia Hale). The movie is loaded with classic Chaplin scenes: The boiled shoe, the tap-dancing rolls, and the cabin teetering on a cliff.
Blaine Gale accompanies, as always, on the Wurlitzer organ. Admission is $5, and reservations are recommended; call 485-9265.
Keaton at Sea: Buster Keaton's 1924 comedy "The Navigator" will screen Friday at 8 p.m., in the Provo Tabernacle, at Center Street and University Avenue.
Michael Ohman, curator of organs at Brigham Young University, will provide improvised accompaniment. Admission is free, and doors open at 7:30 p.m.
Keaton plays pampered rich kid Rollo Treadway, whose marriage proposal to the lovely -- and equally spoiled -- Betsy O'Brien (Kathryn McGuire) has been rejected. Rollo decides to sail to Honolulu, but accidentally gets on a boat owned by O'Brien's father. Betsy boards the ship, too, just as spies have kidnapped her father and cut the boat loose. Rollo and Betsy find themselves floating out to sea, neither realizing the other is on board.
The show is sponsored by the Provo Arts Council, which also plans a gallery stroll, 6 to 8 p.m. in downtown Provo. Several merchants and restaurants are providing discounts in connection with the program.
Also, in an interview published in the Daily Herald on 1 February 2002 [see below], the filmmakers provide $450,000 as the film's budget.
9/26/01 Magstatic has just finished recording 2 tracks for the upcoming film "singles ward". One track will be available on the soundtrack, both will appear in the film. Both songs were recorded at the Luna barn. We'll see if we can post them.
Anyone who's spent time in an LDS singles ward will tell you a movie about the experience could only be a comedy.
Local filmmaker Kurt Hale and his writing partner, John Moyer, felt that way, too, and wrote "The Singles Ward," which opens today in theaters throughout Utah.
"I think people like to laugh at themselves," Hale said. "We went to the premiere of 'Brigham City' and there were a couple of well-placed lines, and people laughed for 20 minutes. Why not do a movie full of lines like that?"
"The Singles Ward" is the first comedy in the relatively new genre of Mormon cinema. Richard Dutcher's "God's Army" and "Brigham City" opened the door for feature-length LDS films, and now Hale and company are using it to tell jokes -- a risky venture, given the seriousness of religion in general.
"We realize there are going to be what we call the Pharisaical Mormons out there who aren't ready to examine our culture and its peculiarities," Hale said. "But we've done everything as reverently as possible. We don't have an ax to grind."
Indeed, he said, the point is to make fun of the culture, not the dogma.
"Our story is void of any doctrine," he said. "You won't see any ordinances or prayers. We're just highlighting the strangeness of a singles ward."
The story, about a 27-year-old man who gets divorced and finds himself back in a singles ward, is based on Moyer's own life, Moyer said.
"I went from being married to being thrust back into the singles market," he said. "The movie kind of touches on some of that frustration. I felt really out of place and stopped attending church."
Moyer has since remarried. He and his wife, Melissa, are active in their LDS family ward in Los Angeles. But his real life experiences helped him make Jonathan and the other characters real and believable.
"The movie is about the choices we make in life," Moyer said. "You can learn a lot from it."
Hale is a grandson of Utah community theater pioneers Nathan and Ruth Hale, and his first project was originally to adapt one of their plays, "The Babysitter," for the big screen.
Moyer had been working on his idea for "The Singles Ward" for a few years, though, and he and Hale chose to develop it instead.
Moyer and Hale studied film together at BYU. They share writing credit on "The Singles Ward," and Hale directed it.
Work on the film began in earnest a year ago, and shooting began last August. Hale said they plan to shoot their next comedy, "The R.M.," this May, with "Church Ball" (about church-sponsored sports) to follow next year.
Admittedly, "The Singles Ward" will appeal most to Latter-day Saints. "There's some physical comedy in there that's very funny, but it's steeped in the culture," Hale said. "Situationally, it's funny, but it should be a barn-burner for LDS people."
"The Singles Ward" cost $450,000 to make -- a pittance in movie terms. "For that much money, I don't think we could have done any better," Hale said with a laugh. "I think the quality's there. We'll feel like we succeeded if we get any laughs. Not at the expense of our religion, but of our culture, for sure."
Further, the movie is good, clean entertainment, Moyer said.
"You've got so many members of the LDS Church who are frustrated with what Hollywood is producing," he said. "This is an opportunity for them to be able to see something that is entertaining ... and you don't have to worry about offensive material that Hollywood puts out."
This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page C1.
If you got your Family Home Evening group together one Monday night and made a little "movie," except you got dozens of your friends to help out, found some editing and sound equipment, and made the thing last 102 minutes, you'd have "The Singles Ward." There are very few jokes in it that the average Latter-day Saint with a sense of humor couldn't come up with on his own, and most of the performances are nothing beyond what your friends could muster.
That's not to say it's a bad movie, although it's certainly not a very good one. Its amateur nature is sometimes endearing, but other times, the over-the-top performances ruin what might have been passable jokes. (This occurs mostly among the one-scene characters, who exist only to provide punch lines and who apparently thought, incorrectly, that bigger was better.)
The central character, who also talks to the camera Ferris Bueller-style, is Jonathan Jordan (Will Swenson), a 27-year-old stand-up comedian who got married while still at BYU but whose wife subsequently left him. Now he's single and inactive and resistant to change, though he finds the church's efforts to reactivate him more amusing than annoying. ("I'm a spy who joined the other side," he says. "I know all their tactics.")
As befitting real life, he starts getting involved in the singles ward activities due to his interest in a girl. She is Cammie (Connie Young), a pretty, headstrong gal who thinks Jonathan makes jokes to cover up his real feelings. Supporting characters abound.
Most of the humor is derived from the sights and sounds of an LDS singles ward in Utah. It is generally broad-side-of-the-barn stuff; you've made a lot of the same observations yourself, probably. It does win points, though, for being first to put those observations in a movie. There's something delightful about seeing jokes about LDS life on the big screen, even if they're not exactly original.
The film, written by Kurt Hale and John Moyer and directed by Hale, boasts numerous celebrity cameos. There's LaVell Edwards, Danny Ainge, Steve Young, Johnny Biscuit and Richard Dutcher (the man behind "God's Army" and "Brigham City"), among others. Nearly every single one is wasted. Rather than having the famous person show up and do something funny, most of them just show up -- the cameo IS the joke.
There's a definite sense of fun within the large cast; everyone involved clearly had a good time. But there's also a definite sense that Hale and Moyer wanted to cram in every LDS culture-related joke they could think of, often at the expense of the story and characters.
They make fun of uptight people who get upset over, for example, the missionary-on-the-toilet scene in "God's Army." But later, one of the main characters gets uptight in exactly the same way, overreacting to jokes Jonathan makes at the expense of Mormons -- only now, we're supposed to agree with her. "The Singles Ward" wants it both ways, where jokes about our culture are OK, and where they're also a sign of apostasy. Comedy is tricky business, and this one's too slapdash and undisciplined to make it work. C-
1 hr., 42 min.; PG for mild thematic elements
[Readers Comments attached to this review on the Daily Herald website]
Snider doesn't know a good thing when he sees it
by susie on Friday, February 01
I've seen the movie The Single's Ward and I thought it was great. Ten times better than God's Army! It was a fun movie and I definitely think people will like it. Has Eric Snider ever written anything positive about anything?...
by Mandy on Wednesday, February 13 @ 22:52:23 MST
There are a lot of things in Eric's article that I agree with, but being a member of a single's ward myself, it is my opinion that this movie is hilarious. It's not a 5 star movie by a long shot, but that doesn't mean it's not funny, or at least worth the time and money devoted to seeing it. It's also a fun date movie with an awesome soundtrack.
There's a new strategy in Hollywood for 2002 -- if the studios can't make better movies, they'll make more.
Fox's "Ice Age" is a computer animated comedy about prehistoric animals. It opens on March 15.
There are more than 50 films scheduled to open between February and the start of the summer movie season (which will begin early this year when "Spider-Man" is released May 3).
Some of these pictures had their original 2001 release dates canceled after Sept. 11, including the Arnold Schwarzenegger thriller "Collateral Damage," the ensemble comedy "Big Trouble" and the sci-fi/action remake of "Rollerball" (which has been cut down from an earlier R-rated version to a more teen-friendly PG-13).
And the beloved classic "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" will be released in theaters in the form of a "director's cut," courtesy of one Mr. Steven Spielberg.
But it is some of the more "original" 2002 releases that show the most promise:
THE SINGLES WARD -- ** [2 out of 4 stars] -- Will Swenson, Connie Young, Daryn Tufts, Kirby Heyborne, Michael Birkeland, Gretchen Whalley, Sedra Santos, Robert Swenson, Lincoln Hoppe, Wally Joyner; rated PG (mild vulgarity, brief violence); see the "On the Screen" column for complete listing of local theaters.
A word of advice to the makers of "The Singles Ward": Celebrity cameos do not automatically equal laughs. And neither do cliches, no matter how "inside" they are.
Unfortunately, this locally produced romantic comedy, which aims itself squarely at the LDS audience, too often leans on both when the going gets tough -- and neither are actually funny enough to prop up this flimsy piece of fluff.
What is particularly disheartening is that such a move seems to suggest the filmmakers didn't really have enough confidence in their story. Of course, it is based on an extremely creaky premise -- disaffected Mormon rediscovers his faith when he finds love with a straight-laced churchgoer.
Still, one thing does save this LDS comedy from being completely excruciating -- the appeal of the fresh-faced cast, led by Will Swenson as a stand-up comedian named Jonathan Jordan.
The lovelorn twentysomething comic is divorced, a marriage that ended badly when his convert-wife decided that the LDS life wasn't for her. So since then, Jonathan has become slightly embittered toward the LDS Church, even rebuffing all efforts at fellowship.
That might come to an end rather quickly, though. Despite his reservations, he finds himself attracted to Cammie (Connie Young), the activities director for the LDS singles ward.
Things get off to a rocky start -- thanks to a lie he told her during their first encounter -- but the two seeming opposites quickly become inseparable. However, their burgeoning relationship may be put to the test when Cammie receives her mission call just as Jonathan is offered a six-week gig.
Co-writer/director Kurt Hale (grandson of local theater legend Ruth Hale) has the unfortunate tendency to linger long after each joke's punchline, and the score (by Cody Hale) is so strident you can practically hear a wah-wah sound telling the audience when to laugh.
To their credit, the cast members do their best to make this work. Swenson and Young have a natural, unforced chemistry (though sometimes his range is strained by the more dramatic material).
Even better are supporting cast members, especially Daryn Tufts, Kirby Heyborne and Michael Birkeland, who play Jonathan's faithful next-door neighbors -- and who might have served as the focus for a more interesting, funnier movie.
The cameos, on the other hand, are decidedly mixed bag. While the appearance by LDS filmmaker Richard Dutcher (making fun of his hit "God's Army") is amusing enough, the others are either unsuccessful (bits involving local sports heroes Danny Ainge, Steve Young and Wally Joyner) or downright irritating (those with TV weatherman Mitch English and computer pitchman Super Dell).
"The Singles Ward" is rated PG for some mildly suggestive talk, brief violence (automotive mayhem) and a scene of helium inhalation. Running time: 102 minutes.
Tuesday, February 12, 2002
Jared Crowford, Utah
Rank: 3 stars
i agree that the deseret news movie critic needs to lighten up. what were you expecting from this movie? a classic? it's a silly comedy. that's what it's supposed to be. i loved it! it's really good to see that there are still movies out there that have honest, clean, and a really funny look at things. i would recommend this movie to anyone except for people who aren't mormon, and wouldn't understand most of the "inside" mormon jokes. i applaud this movie, and i boo the deseret news movie critic. have some fun in life and lighten up jeff.
I'm so glad that I don't listen to critics! 2 stars from Jeff Vice? I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard in a movie. I thought the acting was great (except for Steve Young, ("Brother Niner"), even though his part was pretty funny.) Anyway, I thought all the cameo appearances were great. Especially Richard Dutcher and the "God's Army" scene. And having Ron McBride as the father of missionary was quite funny! I would recommend this movie to any LDS person, don't think non-LDS people would get the movie and all of the "inside" jokes. I liked the whole "Ferris Beuler" aspect of the main character talking to the camera throughout the show. I can't wait to see it again and I WILL buy this movie when it comes out on DVD. Great movie. Make sure you go to the bathroom before you see it cuz you'll wet your pants from laughing so hard.
This film isn't perfect, but what these guys have accomplished is hysterical. My wife and I - and the whole theater - laughed all the way through. Everbody even applauded at the end, and I can't remember when the last time I was in a movie theater and saw that happen. Kudos to The Singles Ward!
I thought while I was in town that I'd check out the latest in LDS cinema. Unfortunately, what I disovered was the first piece of LDS tripe. It was bound to happen. Only funny in a couple places. Strained in most places. Replete with scenes that should never have ended up in commerically-released version. The audience I saw it with are either 100% mute or in complete agreement. Unless you have a personal friend in the movie and promised them you'd go see it, stay very far away! Jeff Vice was generous with his 2-star review.
This movie was great! I would reccommend it to anyone who lives in the state of Utah. I laughed the whole time.
Lighten up, Jeff. I thought the movie was hilarious.
The hardest I have laughed at a movie since Tommy Boy. It is definitely for Mormons, but if you have lived as an LDS single, this movie is hilarious!
I thought the movie was a fun spoof on LDS life...Being over 50 I was concerned that the humor might be something I wouldn't relate to but it was great fun and my 80 year old in-laws laughed just as hard as I did. I thought the cameo's added to the intrest of the movie and the cast was very well chosen. Will Swenson is excellant.
* [1 star out of 4]
An amateurish addition to the LDS Cinema genre.
Not rated, but probably PG for mild sensuality and language; 102 minutes.
Opening today at area theaters.
What hath Richard Dutcher wrought?
Dutcher, the writer-director-star of "God's Army" and "Brigham City," is the trailblazer of LDS Cinema. Dutcher's movies -- and his success in self-distribution, slowly building word-of-mouth with LDS members across the country -- was sure to encourage others to follow suit. "The Other Side of Heaven" did, and was a qualified success financially and critically.
The latest attempt, the LDS comedy "The Singles Ward," is everything Dutcher managed to avoid: It is parochial, accessible to a chosen few, standoffish to everyone else, and smugly suggests that a superior moral tone is more important than filmmaking skill.
Our hero, Jonathan Jordan (Will Swenson), is a BYU-educated stand-up comic who married young and divorced young. Jonathan's divorce soured his view of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints -- and his attitude doesn't improve when he attends a singles-only ward, where he encounters chirpy mate-seeking Mormons. Then he spots the prettiest woman in the ward, Cammie (Connie Young), who -- in Doris Day/Rock Hudson tradition -- hates, likes, hates and loves him.
Co-writers Kurt Hale (who also directed) and John E. Moyer make references so obscure (even to LDS members), from the Eight-Cow Woman to Preference dances, that the movie should include subtitles. And their caustic attitude toward community life within the LDS Church is at odds with the spiritual celebration they mean their movie to be.
Often the inside references (calling them "jokes" would be charitable) are delivered, like an elbow to the ribs, by Utah celebrities appearing in cameos -- like single-until-38 quarterback Steve Young quoting Brigham Young's admonishment that "if you're 25 years old and unmarried, you're a menace to society." Most of the cameos elicit little more than a "Hey, that's (fill in the blank)" response, though you could make a parlor game of choosing the most annoying local celebrity. (Utah Jazz spokes-baldy Johnny Biscuit is a contender, but not enough to top the grand champion of irritation, computer huckster "Super" Dell Schanze.)
The movie's one truly funny moment is also the most telling: When Jonathan's ward friends watch "God's Army" on DVD, Dutcher himself appears, declining an invitation to join them because "those toilet scenes are kind of offensive." You know "The Singles Ward" is in trouble when it cannibalizes a movie genre that has barely gotten off the ground.
It's tempting to go easy on "The Singles Ward," since it's a local production. But when you must pay the same $7 that gets you into "A Beautiful Mind" or "The Lord of the Rings," amateur hour is over.
The Singles Ward * * [2 stars out of 4]
So determinedly made for the LDS faithful that you should need a temple recommend to buy a ticket, this independent romantic comedy ostensibly concerns a 20-something Mormon divorcé (BYU alum Will Swenson) struggling both with his faith and with being single again. In fact, it primarily concerns co-writer/director Kurt Hale and collaborator John E. Moyer trotting out nudging references to carrot-filled Jell-O, the LDS novel Charly, Franklin Day Planners, etc. -- comedy of the "Hey, she just mentioned Alta High School!" variety. There's plenty of charm in the film's central relationship, a few amusing running gags and lots of scattershot filmmaking energy. Mostly, though, it's energy spent mixing slapstick comedy and in-jokes, then smothering them in an avalanche of Mormon celebrity cameos. If you know the culture, chuckles of recognition may abound. For a Gentile, it's all about as hilarious as having to refer to your footnotes every two minutes. (PG) --SR