Among the big accomplishments of Utah filmmaker Richard Dutcher's big-screen debut, "God's Army," was the fact that its story and characters were so appealing that it was able to draw in more than just its obvious LDS target audience.

His eagerly anticipated follow-up, the dramatic thriller "Brigham City," is a far riskier venture. Dutcher has confounded expectations by not making an "easy" film, such as a "God's Army" sequel. Instead, "Brigham City" deals with several touchy subjects and tells a far less sunny story, and in the process, he risks alienating that target audience. What's more, the strong religious tone of this piece could keep non-Mormons at arm's length as well.

"Brigham City" is also less enthralling than "God's Army," though it's not without its moments. For one thing, the dramatic story elements (which include some very specific religious content and some surprisingly deep-rooted philosophical questions about old-fashioned lifestyles versus modern society) are very promising.

But the main storyline, which involves a murder investigation, is far more problematic. Thankfully, it's not as lurid or as exploitative as most thrillers these days, but, frankly, it doesn't seem to jell nearly as well as the other material. (It would be interesting to see how the film might have turned out with the murder mystery excised completely; it could have been more rewarding.)

After handling a secondary role in his previous film, Dutcher is the main star this time, playing Wes Clayton, the sheriff of the fictional town of Brigham City, a sleepy little Utah community that's slowly joining the "real world." (Not to be confused with the real Brigham City).

Clayton is also an LDS bishop, and most residents address him by that title, rather than as "sheriff."

There's relatively little crime in Brigham, but all that is about to change. Returning from a routine disturbance call, Wes and his deputy Terry Woodruff (Matthew A. Brown, who had the lead role in "God's Army") stumble onto a mystery — they find a seemingly abandoned vehicle from California, and, nearby, the body of a murder victim.

Believing it to be nothing more than an isolated incident, Clayton is happy to turn the case over to FBI agent Meredith Cole (Tavya Patch) and to conceal the crime's existence from the town, save for a selected few, including his secretary Peg (Carrie Morgan) and retired sheriff Stu Udall (veteran character actor Wilford Brimley).

Unfortunately, Clayton may not be able to keep it a secret for long, especially when there's evidence to suggest that the murderer may be a Brigham resident — and that he may not be through killing.

It's not really fair to criticize the the film's production values, especially when you consider that Dutcher is working with a budget that is less than one percent of what most Hollywood movies cost. But from a technical standpoint, it doesn't seem quite as accomplished as "God's Army."

For what's primarily a mystery, the film also seems bit slow-paced and drawn out, though at least some of that can be attributed to Sam Cardon's score, which isn't all that subtle.

But to his credit, Dutcher the director gets good performances from his largely local cast, which includes Dutcher the actor, who makes a very sympathetic lead. The supporting cast is also solid, especially the always dependable Brimley and Morgan.

"Brigham City" is rated PG-13 for gore (fairly restrained, compared to most modern movies), violence (mainly gunfire) and use of a couple of mild profanities and racial epithets. Running time: 122 minutes.


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