When I signed up for 'Machine Gun Preacher,' I did so for one reason: I wanted to see Gerard Butler in a film where he was an actual man's man, a bad ass of any kind. Over the last few years, these opportunities have been few and far between, as the man whose career reached star heights thanks to the uber-masculine '300' was doing insanely boring rom-coms and his "action" roles have been so over-the-top silly it's hard to get into them. By hoping 'Machine Gun Preacher' would reverse this fading star's decline, I made a great mistake. Thankfully, this message flick is so ridiculous, it made for an entertaining viewing. By the time the film was finished, I didn't even feel bad about mocking a film about such a serious, horrible issue, but 'Machine Gun Preacher' doesn't inspire action towards helping a cause. It inspires viewers to mock the film's shortcomings.
Sam Childers (Butler) is a douchebag. Technically he was, but he still kinda is. His hobbies included heroin (both use and dealing), riding his hog, spending time in prison, and complaining that his wife Lynn (the beautiful Michelle Monaghan) quit her job as a stripper. Each day he seemed destine to either OD or kill someone. But something happened in Sam Childer's life that changed all that. He found God. When he found God, he heard about missionairies who went to Uganda and Sudan to help with the masses of orphaned children, and he decided he wanted to be a part of the solution. 'Machine Gun Preacher' follows this repentant screw-up as he tries to rally his apathetic countrymen to his cause, while devoting his life to the well being of countless youths halfway around the world.
I would have liked to have given 'Machine Gun Preacher' a higher score, and a kinder review. Honest to goodness, and not just because I would have used the line "Uganda have a great time!" The religious aspect of this movie is somewhat positive (even if it does appear a little out of the blue, forcing night and day changes on characters from scene to scene), the cast is decent enough, and I would give an entire paycheck to Childers' foundation before I gave a single red cent to a similar foundation. Reading about Childers, it's hard not to root for the man and his goals. He seems truly dedicated to his cause, and he puts his money where his mouth is, instead of thinking a donation (that mostly goes to an organization's overhead instead of its crusade) will right the world's wrongs. Honestly, this is a man who deserved to have a film made after him.
The problem is, it's hard to like 'Machine Gun Preacher.' It's a stupid, over the top, horribly made film. It's a guilt trip as much as it is a revelation to the situation. It's hard to connect to Childers for some time, because it's hard to look beyond his past. The film makes a good effort at showing what a bad person he was, and it takes some time to forgive him for that. So there's an unsympathetic lead, fighting a cause that requires our sympathy... The moment Childers finds faith, his entire life turns around...except for the fact that the Harley Davidson logo has to be prominently featured in damn near every scene he's in. Even in Africa, there's no escaping product placement, and it becomes outright laughable.
The biggest issue in the film is this little thing called believability. We have a man down on his luck, struggling to support his family. He finds God, decides he wants to go to Africa, and BAM! He's in Africa two seconds later. When he wants to go home, he's there. And back and forth throughout the entire film, with no concern for money. The way the movie transitions back and forth between America and Africa with no real concern for plausibility or logistics becomes a major distraction. You start to wonder if this man invented a teleportation device, and if so, why he hasn't sold it for billions of dollars to give to the children... or better yet, just teleport the kids out of there.
The action in the film is too little, too late, the sequences too few and far between, and even if we truly believe through these moments that Childers is one bad ass sonofagun, it's hard to care when the very next scene has him begging American business owners for more money when he has no assets to loan against. It's hard to take the film seriously when a scene featuring a minute's worth of yelling non-stop in a bank doesn't draw a single customer's eye or a rush from security. It's hard to really feel the tension in a film that, much like the 'Star Wars' prequels, features vehicles that will always shield their occupants from the destruction the rest of the convoy receives, all because they're holding important cast members. With no stand-out performance, no stand-out scene or scenario, and too much guilt spread evenly throughout the movie, it's really hard to find a positive thing to say about it. 'Machine Gun Preacher' is just flat-out bad, frustrating, and a waste of potential.
The Disc: Vital Stats
Fox brings 'Machine Gun Preacher' to Blu-ray on a Region A marked BD50 disc. First pressings of this release will include a slipcover, and inside the package there are three discs, thanks to DVD and disc based Digital Copies also being included.
The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode for 'Machine Gun Preacher' may be 100% accurate to its source, but it sure as hell isn't all that pretty. In fact, there are numerous times in this flick where viewers may wonder what disc they put into their Blu-ray player. I'm all for natural grain layers in film, but I'm really not a big fan of noise levels so high, so uneven and sporadic that it looks like every single scene was shot with a different camera. Most whites in this film are absolutely annihilated with activity, and it's hard to distract oneself from this mess. The picture is never all that deep, and while there is some solid detail and textures (though not in every shot), the random murky, "who gives a damn" looking shots ruin that contact high. Colors have no problem retaining their boldness, and dark sequences (of which there are many in the African nights) do a great job of retaining what little detail there is without crushing, but this picture is quite difficult to stomach and praise. We've had this argument before (case in point), but I refuse to budge and call an ugly duckling a swan, no matter how beautiful it is on the inside.
The audio for 'Machine Gun Preacher' isn't a shining sonic marvel, but it's more than passable. Presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, the track features solid directionality, with chaos and gunfire originating from any given angle, with great disparity between the varying types of guns being fired, creating a very realistic sound (albeit one that is a little under-cooked, compared to the carnage sometimes on screen). Movement is utilized from time to time, but is mostly a wasted opportunity. Rears seldom get appropriate presence, with the front side channels getting most of the crowd-type ambient noises, with more than a few sequences that could and should have given the full audio system a workout but instead took a nap. Dialogue is clear and concise throughout this mix, with no prioritization issues or lost words. Good, but it could have been much, much better.
This three disc combo includes a DVD copy of the film, because this is obviously the kind of film people take on the road with them, or loan out to friends looking to have a good time at the movies. The menu has a slot for sneak peeks at other Fox films, and not all of them play pre-menu. Imagine that!
Unfortunately, 'Machine Gun Preacher' is not a very good film. It looks average. It sounds average. It has a lot of Harley Davidson product placement. And it should have been so much better. This one you can skip.