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Film review: R.M., The

"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.