At his recent Republican National Convention speech, actor Clint Eastwood first addressed the crowd by saying, “I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, what’s a movie tradesman doing out here? You know they are all left-wingers out there, left of Lenin. At least that is what people think. That is not really the case. There are a lot of conservative people […] in Hollywood.” As much as one would like to believe Eastwood that a healthy amount of intellectual diversity exists in a community known only for its rampant liberalism, this is impossible after watching the new conservative-themed film “Last Ounce of Courage.” If there really was an ample supply of Republican actors and filmmakers, then the movie wouldn’t be the amateurish, often unintentionally hilarious work that it is.
The problems with “Last Ounce of Courage” have little to do with the movie’s intentions, which were born from well-meaning, valid concerns about America’s future. The main theme is that the increasingly politically-correct, secularist attitudes adopted by our governments, both local and federal, are taking the nation down a path that will lead to the public expression of religious freedom (particularly of the Christian variety) becoming socially unacceptable and legally challenged. The filmmakers express this threat through a near-future-set scenario in which the so-called “War on Christmas” has been escalated to a shamefully intolerant level in the small town of Mount Columbus, which is presumably a microcosm of the country as a whole. The residents no longer feel comfortable holding public Christmas celebrations, nor does the high school put on a Christian-themed holiday play, instead substituting it with a secular, outerspace-set parallel version of the Christmas Story. To revive the town’s Constitutional right to freedom of religion, Mayor Bob Revere (Marshall R. Teague) must stand up to the powers that be.
This is all well and good on its own, but writer/co-director Darrel Campbell executes the premise in the most alienating, least intelligent way possible. His first misstep is the use of an exploitative framing device. Protagonist Bob loses a son to the War on Terror and is asked by his grandson Chris (Hunter Gomez) what his dad died for, if not for unbridled religious freedom. This is the question that inspires Bob’s quest to restore Christmas to Mount Columbus. The inherent implication is that if one does not agree with the movie’s pessimistic view of the widening separation between church and state, they do not fully support the troops and are therefore un-American. Aside from being troublingly simpleminded, this sentiment is no way for Campbell to win converts to the movie’s cause — which should be his main goal, rather than preaching to the already converted.
Campbell’s second–and even more detrimental–misstep is that he does not incorporate so much as a trace of satire outside of the ridiculously secular high school play (the strongest segment in the entire film). Instead, everything else in “Last Ounce of Courage” is presented in stone-cold serious fashion, which makes it rather laughable given that it is set, at most, 15 years in the future. Despite the increasing resistance against public displays of Christianity in today’s America, even the most ardent Evangelical conservatives would not argue that the scenario depicted in the film, in which Marshall and Chris are perceived as committing a radical action by adorning their home with Christmas decorations, could credibly come to fruition within the next decade. Thus, Campbell needed to give the material a satirical edge to accompany such hyperbole for it to work. As it stands, “Last Ounce of Courage” feels more like a spoof of doomsday rhetoric about the War on Christmas rather than a sober depiction of this very real issue.
But Campbell’s screenplay is not the movie’s only problem; there is a laundry-list of others, topped by the borderline unwatchable performances. The movie opens with Bob’s family mourning the aforementioned combat death of his son, during which actor Teague and co-star Jennifer O’Neill, playing his daughter-in-law, prove themselves to be so incompetent at fake-crying that the movie plays like a “Saturday Night Live” parody of soap operas. More compelling performances have been delivered in community college Drama 101 classes. The teenage cast fares moderately better, turning in uninspired work without embarrassing themselves, but lead Hunter Gomez’ Bieber-esque hairstyle is downright distracting. Who knew that socially conservative kids could be even more metrosexual than their liberal friends?
Then again, perhaps it’s a good thing that the movie was not able to attract a better cast, because it simply would have been a waste of their talents. There isn’t one well-executed component in “Last Ounce of Courage,” down to the small things. Jason Cantu’s hyper-digital cinematography looks only marginally better than that of a daytime drama, Ron Owen’s original score sounds like it was taken from the Hallmark Channel vault, et cetera. It’s truly dismaying that for a group that makes up at least half the country, conservatives have consistently proven themselves unable to produce a quality film that successfully articulates the failings of progressivism. “Last Ounce of Courage” is a pathetic attempt at such, right down to its epilogue — an excerpt of Ronald Reagan’s infamous “Rendezvous with Destiny” speech, as if evoking the Republican icon is enough to excuse the movie’s ill-conceived expression of the principles he once held dear.