“Father Stu,” a new, inspirational Mark Wahlberg movie, now playing in theatres, is the unlikely, but true, story of a potty-mouthed, rough ‘n tumble boxer whose road to redemption begins with a detour into the Catholic Church.
When we first meet Stuart Long (Wahlberg), he’s an amateur boxer with visions of the big time. He’s good, but not good enough to go pro, as his mother (Jacki Weaver) likes to point out. “Don’t be careless with your life,” she says. “You’re the age when most people pack it in.”
He’s an angry guy. Angry at his deadbeat father (Mel Gibson). Angry at his little brother who died young. Angry at himself and the world.
He’s a nasty drunk with a hair trigger temper, but when a medical condition forces him to retire from the ring, he sets his eyes on Hollywood. “I’ll cash in on my face,” he says. “Not my fists.”
A smooth talker, he manages to get a job at a grocery store where he hopes to meet actors and directors who will give him a gig. Instead, he meets Carmen (Teresa Ruiz) a devote Catholic who reluctantly begins dating the unpolished Stu, but only if he gets baptized. She is, as a friend says, “as Catholic as the cross itself.”
His road to redemption begins as he helps Carmen teach Sunday School. His plain-spoken way is a hit with the kids, Carmen and even her strict father but it takes a drunken motorcycle accident for Stu to literally see the light and devote himself to the church. “God saved me to show there is a reason why I’m here,” he says as he tells Carmen of his intention to become a priest.
In a life filled with dramatic turns, there is one more in store for Stu. One that may prevent him from realizing his dream of becoming a priest. “God is all about fighting the odds,” he says, “of having the strength to endure a difficult life.”
“Father Stu” has inspiration to spare. It is a movie about religion’s power to heal and motivate, which will have many saying “Amen,” but the story’s execution resembles a movie of the week, with predictable plot points and an accelerated timeline that packs too much into too little time.
Even at two hours, the pacing is jagged as director and writer Rosalind Ross attempts to cover as many facets of Stu’s personality as possible. She takes the adage “everything happens for a reason” to an extreme and, as such, the movie feels rushed on some scenes, too leisurely in others, but rarely gives us the deep insight that would make Stu’s motivations resonate.
Wahlberg, who also produced the film after hearing Stu’s story during dinner with a group of priests, undergoes an extreme transformation to play the character—and I don’t mean his ridiculous moustache. His charisma shines through the weight and make-up and it is in these scenes that he elevates Stu from the cartoonish bad boy of the movie’s first half, into a compelling character. It’s too bad, that Ross attempts to tie up some of the loose story threads just as the personal story really finds its humanity.
“Father Stu” is being released around Easter, so given its subject matter and messages, it would appear to be a movie for the whole family, but be warned, Stu’s language is authentic, i.e. pretty raunchy throughout the film’s running time.
“Father Stu” is a movie about change, about overcoming obstacles and living with purpose. Good messages all, it’s just too bad they are tied up in a clumsy movie.