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Chris Hicks: Americans say darndest things about Mormons

The latest Mormon movie isn't going to be in theaters. It's on DVD.

Well, actually, "Mobsters and Mormons" is the latest Mormon movie, and it is in theaters.

And the next Mormon movies — "God's Army 2" and "The Work and the Glory 2," with their respective subtitles — will be in theaters, too.

OK, so the latest Mormon movies ARE going to be in theaters, but there's also another new Mormon movie that's not going to be in theaters. It's on DVD.

Well, except that it's not really a movie; it's more of a featurette.

OK. Can I start this column again?

Anyway, it's called "American Mormon," and it landed on DVD this week — a brief, light-hearted documentary that asks people around the country what they know about the LDS Church.

And no, it doesn't ask, "would they like to know more?" Well, mostly.

Daryn Tufts and Jed Knudsen didn't go out as LDS missionaries. They went out as documentary filmmakers. Although a bit of missionary work did apparently follow some of the interviews (as explained in their audio commentary).

"American Mormon" (Excel, 35 minutes, $19.98) was obviously a labor of love for Tufts and Knudsen, and also a working vacation of sorts.

Tufts is the on-camera guy with the microphone; Knudsen held the camera and monitored the sound equipment. (You may recognize Tufts from his supporting role in "The Singles Ward" — as did a few interviewees, to his great surprise.)

Tufts apparently started off the interviews by explaining that he was doing a documentary, but without revealing the subject. On-camera, he amiably asks general questions, then works "Utah" into the conversation, and before you know it, they're talking about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons).

The idea behind this film is a simple one, and it's not anything new. It's more or less a variation on Art Linkletter's interview style from his '50s and '60s TV shows, which reached its zenith during segments with children, gaining popularity under the title "Kids Say the Darndest Things."

Which begat everything from "Street Smarts" to Jay Leno's "Jaywalking" segments on "The Tonight Show."

Only nicer.

Adults also say the darndest things, although a few of the people approached by Tufts are pretty savvy about the LDS faith — especially a well-read guy in New Orleans who did "vampire" tours. (Which may be viewed with a bit of melancholy now that New Orleans is under water.)

But most of Tufts' subjects don't know much about Mormons, and what they do know could most kindly be described as mythology.

Of course, one topic can't be avoided: Polygamy pops up repeatedly.

But some of the zaniest observations are simple distortions of the interviewees' vague memories. Like the young hippie in Southern California who says the Mormon Church has something to do with lizards, and then proceeds to meander through a bizarre monologue.

A Gypsy in New York has her own singular views, as does a Baptist in Washington, D.C. And let's not forget the two young women in Hollywood dressed as superheroes.

To his credit, Tufts never talks down to anyone, and he genuinely seems to be enjoying himself as he listens intently to whatever these folks have to say.

It's even fun when the interview goes in a wildly unexpected direction, as when Tufts stumbles onto a pair of punk rockers in Las Vegas, only to discover they are actually young LDS kids from Utah, celebrating high school graduation with a naive impersonation of punkers.

Tufts' charm helps carry "American Mormon," and his audio commentary with Knudsen is also entertaining. This one is great fun.

P.S. to Tufts: Yes, Rick Schroder is a Mormon, having joined the church after marrying an LDS woman, and he hasn't been shy about the subject in published interviews.