Movie: Don Verdean

Director: Jared Hess (‘Napoleon Dynamite,’ ‘Nacho Libre’)

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Amy Ryan, Jemaine Clement, Leslie Bibb, Will Forte and Danny McBride

People tend to take extreme measures to cover their failures from the public they so desperately wish to be admired by, particularly their followers who were once so dedicated to their work and contributions to society. But sometimes those excessive actions they take wind up garnering even more attention than their original work, and can ultimately tarnish the acclaim they previously achieved. That motivation to reclaim your former glory in your professional career with a seemingly captivating new project, only to disappointingly fail because of your new work’s flaws, is grippingly presented in the new satirical comedy, ‘Don Verdean.’

The movie, which Lionsgate will distribute in theaters and On Demand on Friday, was written by husband-and-wife filmmakers, Jared and Jerusha Hess, the former of whom also served as the director. The scribes and helmer, who first garnered attention for their feature film debut, the hit 2004 comedy, ‘Napoleon Dynamite,’ discouragingly failed to recapture their unique take on satirizing American culture with their latest comedy, which follows the title character as he also tries to revive his once prosperous career.

‘Don Verdean’ follows the title protagonist (Sam Rockwell), a self-appointed biblical archaeologist who searches for religious relics that more qualified experts have searched for throughout the centuries. The comedy begins with a highlight reel of low-quality video clips from Verdeen Acheological Discovery Prods., in which the explorer is shown being praised by faithful international audiences with his seemingly authentic discoveries from the Holy Land. While Don claims his faith leads him to numerous famed burial sites, his fame soon comes to a crashing end.

A decade after his glory days, as seen in the beginning clips, end, Don and his research assistant, Carol (Amy Ryan), are barely able to schedule lectures for devoted church audiences throughout the U.S. He’s barely known or recognized anymore, as his discoveries have been discounted by accredited archaeological researchers.

But their luck soon changes, as one of Don’s previous acquaintances, Rev. Tony Lazarus (Danny McBride), a former sinner, claims that he and his ex-hooker wife, Joylinda (Leslie Bibb), claim they have been redeemed by the Lord. The couple tells Don and Carol that they’ll bankroll their future expeditions, if they allow them to present their findings to the public, in hopes that the relics will be able to increase their congregation numbers. With the help of Don’s colleague, Boaz (Jemaine Clement), who lives in Jerusalem, Don and Carol set out to uncover famous relics for Tony, including the skull of Goliath. Feeling the increasing pressure to find more noteworthy artifacts, Don and his colleagues will do whatever it takes to secure more money from the reverend and even richer benefactors. But their at-times unethical and illegal quests for religious relics is threatened by Pastor Fontaine (Will Forte), an ex-Satanist who will do anything to increase his own congregation at his new church.

Rockwell and the supporting cast in ‘Don Verdean,’ particularly the alluringly versatile Clement, were rightfully cast in the Hess’ intriguing satirical comedy, which provocatively chronicles how people always want to surpass their competitors, even in the name of helping those they’re supposed to serve. The Screen Actors Guild Award-nominated lead actor effortlessly infused Don with an alluring determination to once again earn, and maintain, the respect of researchers and church congregations for his efforts in finding religious artifacts. The modesty Rockwell naturally instilled into his title character, who was determined to take whatever extreme measures were to realize his dream again, no matter what consequences he’ll face as a result, provide the film with an amusing relatability.

While Rockwell effortlessly infused Don with an understandable desire to achieve his dream, no matter what extreme situations he finds himself in on his quest to once again become a moral leader in the church community, Clement intriguingly played Boaz as a more extreme counterpart to the lead actor’s anti-hero. Clement naturally and fascinatingly transformed Don’s colleague from an at-times mindless collaborator, who carelessly doesn’t always pay attention to the self-proclaimed archaeologist’s needs, into someone who’s excessive and self-serving. The Emmy Award-nominated actor’s noteworthy performance grippingly emphasizes how people will manipulate anyone they can in order to get what they want, even if they want to be remembered for being noble.

Even though Rockwell and Clement instinctively honed in on Don and Boaz’s shared desire to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals, and the two characters inexplicably found themselves in entertaining situations as a result, the actors’ portrayals unfortunately were unable to maintain the writers’ commendable attempts at satirical humor throughout the film. The two scribes weren’t able to reclaim the captivating jokes they effortlessly incorporated the script for their culturally significant ‘Napoleon Dynamite.’

Overall, Rockwell enthrallingly infused his title character of Don Verdean with an understandable desire to once again be considered a moral leader in the church community. Clement also intriguingly played Boaz as a more extreme counterpart to the lead actor’s anti-hero, particularly since he quickly learned how to manipulate anyone he could in order to get what he wanted. But overall, the Hess’ story for ‘Don Verdean,’ which is meant to showcase how people can often lose their faith in times of crisis, particularly when they’re tempted to carry out selfish acts for their own monetary gain and/or the lure of fame, only achieves that goal on a minimal level. Most of the people Don surrounds himself with in his drive to reclaim his former glory are so narcissistic that the self-serving actions they take part in regrettably makes the overall film feel unoriginal and uninspiring.

Technical: B

Acting: B+

Story: B-

Overall: B

Written by: Karen Benardello

Don Verdean Movie Review
Photo Credit: Lionsgate

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By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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