Steeped in Christian tenets of forgiveness, brotherhood, and prayer, and rife with earnest platitudes about race and family, The Grace Card is one overwrought piece of work. Well-meaning, to be sure, this evangelical soap opera calls out for, well, absolution.
Set in Memphis, and directed with a beat-too-long obviousness by David Evans (an optometrist in his filmmaking debut), The Grace Card follows the tortured life of Mac McDonald (Michael Joiner), a cop whose world was smashed to pieces when his 5-year-old gets run down by a drug dealer fleeing from the police.
In the years since the tragedy, Mac and his wife, Sara (Joy Moore), have shared an empty marriage with their troubled teenager, Blake (Rob Erickson). Mac's views toward blacks - the driver who killed his boy was African American - have turned ugly, which doesn't help the relationship with his new partner, Sam Wright (Michael Higgenbottom). A part-time preacher, Sam has just been promoted to sergeant, even though Mac has seniority - another factor that makes the officers' patrol time together especially uncomfortable.
To say that The Grace Card piles it on is an understatement of profound dimensions. It's not every movie that can boast a plotline that contains marital discord, racial tensions, police chases, a school suspension, a batch of TV and appliance store robberies, church sermons, a hostage situation, the use of deadly force, organ donations, and a fateful cholesterol lab test.
Thank goodness there's a pushy family therapist (Cindy Hodge) to counsel the distraught McDonalds. "How much do you have to hate someone to let them die in hurt, when one kind word can make all the difference?" she asks Blake, who views his father with angry adolescent contempt.
Higgenbottom carries himself with easy assurance. His character's soul-searching - about faith, family, and even his feelings of hate toward his new partner - feel rooted in an authentic place. The same cannot be said for Joiner, who can be seen struggling with the heavy-handed dialogue, wrenching his face into intense grimaces of pain and rage and despair. Louis Gossett Jr. appears briefly as Sam's father.
With a soundtrack full of digestible rap, pop and gospel (sample titles: "Cry Out to Jesus," "City on Our Knees," "Healing Begins") and a church-pew finale that commingles communion and corn, The Grace Card will not be winning any awards for subtlety and nuance.
But hey, who says inspiration has to be refined?
The Grace Card ** (out of four stars)
Directed by David Evans. With Michael Joiner, Michael Higgenbottom, Rob Erickson, Joy Moore, Dawntoya Thomason and Louis Gossett Jr. Distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 41 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (violence, adult themes)
Playing at: United Artists Riverview, AMC Neshaminy, AMC Franklin Mills, AMC Plymouth Meeting, and United Artists 69th Street.