2000, PG-13, 110 min. Directed by Jon Gunn. Starring Lawrence Taylor, Stacy Keach, Koji Kataoka, Lisa Furst, Kevin Downes, Cynthia Watros, David White, Eric Roberts.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Nov. 3, 2000
Like Reservoir Dogs by way of Ned Flanders, Mercy Streets is as earnest as Vacation Bible School and somewhat more cinematic. Christian film distributor Providence Entertainment follows up 1999's biblical fin de siècle thriller The Omega Code (something of a per-screen hit, marketed chiefly by word-of-mouth and pulpit power) with this putatively gritty crime drama. Different genre, but the formula's the same: Take one square-jawed studmuffin (Casper Van Dien in Omega -- here the brooding David White in his feature debut), prop him up with an assortment of stolid B-actors (once Michael Ironside and Michael York, now Eric Roberts and Stacy Keach), and blend well with liberal doses of Judeo-Christian theology. White essays a dual role as two twin brothers, one predictably on either side of the law. While brother John, a small-time con fresh from Stripe City, plans the fateful one last job that'll let him go legit, estranged twin Jeremiah, who thinks John is dead, prepares to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. John's slimy crime boss, Roberts -- who looks eerily like Maury Povich -- facilitates the inevitable switcheroo, with appropriate moral conflicts appertaining. To aid the viewer, White wears Clark Kent glasses as Jeremiah, and adopts a “youse guys” accent worthy of the East Side Kids as John. Yet both characters are given to casting aside their clerical collars in fits of pique and wondering aloud about free will and God's plan. Its heart is never in the wrong place, but the movie is probably too wholesome even for its PG-13 rating, ostensibly merited by acts of pretend gunplay with blank bullets and the sporadic use of insults like “beef bag.” The budget is visibly low; there's a conspicuous lack of master shots, and a character plugs the production's two catering companies in a conversation about where to eat dinner. And the prominent soundtrack hips out at Sixpence None the Richer. However, the intended audience -- moviegoing Christian couples and singles seeking an alternative to Halloween heathenism -- probably won't mind. And while director-producer-co-writer-editor Jon Gunn isn't an immediate threat to Scorsese, he deserves credit for mustering up a mean-streets aesthetic on location in Fresno, using grainy exteriors to give the film what edge it has.