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‘Mormon Movie’ fails to engage

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THE BOOK OF MORMON MOVIE, VOLUME 1: THE JOURNEY — ** — Noah Danby, Jacque Gray, Mark Gollaher, Kirby Heyborne, Bryce Chamberlain, Jan Broberg Felt, Cragun Foulger, Michael Flynn; rated PG-13 (violence, brief gore); see "Playing at local movie theaters" for theater listings.

Despite its PG-13 rating, "The Book of Mormon Movie, Volume 1: The Journey" is nearly bloodless. In more ways than one, actually . . .

And yes, that can be interpreted to mean that this live-action feature — the first of as many as nine films based on Mormon canon — is fairly clean, contentwise, when compared to the vast majority of today's big-screen fare. (Still, the film does contain one scene of violence — which occurs off-screen, for the most part — that earns that PG-13 rating.)

But at the same time, that's also an indication of the movie's biggest failing: It's so slowly paced, so flat-footed that it fails to engage on any level. Even for all but the most eager-to-please of audiences.

This film "volume" is an adaptation of nearly the first two Books of Nephi. Actor Noah Danby plays Nephi, the faithful son of Lehi (Bryce Chamberlain). Unfortunately for Nephi and his family, his father's prophesies of doom for Jerusalem haven't made him too popular.

So Lehi plans to take his family out of Jerusalem and into the desert — with the hope of finding the prophesied Promised Land. But before they do, he sends Nephi and his brothers (Mark Gollaher, Kirby Heyborne and Cragun Foulger) back to the city to retrieve brass plates containing their people's history — a task that's easier said than done.

In adapting this material, co-screenwriters Craig Clyde and Gary Rogers (who also produced and directed the film) had to take certain liberties, adding things and deleting things to move the story along — the wrap-around sequences featuring church organizer Joseph Smith are effective enough, but the attempts at humor are ill-advised.

But you do have to credit Rogers for making the film look as good as it does. For a movie that cost roughly $1.5 million, it does look like, well, a million bucks.

He's saddled with a cast of mostly local actors who look far too contemporary, though Utah stage veteran Gollaher and LDS cinema stalwart Heyborne do give it a game try.

Unfortunately, the beefy, gravelly-voiced Danby doesn't make the most convincing of heroes. Same goes for Jacque Gray, who practically sleepwalks through her role as Nephi's love interest.

"The Book of Mormon Movie, Volume 1: The Journey" is rated PG-13 for scenes of violence (beatings, a back-alley brawl and a beheading), as well as some brief gore. Running time: 119 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com