2002, G, 90 min. Directed by John Purdy. Starring Tony Goldwyn, Colleen Camp, Stacy Edwards, Kurt Fuller, F. Murray Abraham, Giancarlo Giannini.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 19, 2002

The big question posed by the new Christian film Joshua is whether humanity would recognize Jesus for the savior he really is if he were to reappear and walk among us today. That's the position in which the good townsfolk of Auburn are placed when a gentle carpenter named Joshua (Goldwyn, an actor whose first directing project was A Walk on the Moon, a love story grounded in the postwar Jewish culture of the Catskills) comes to their rural burb and shakes their complacency. Joshua leaves a few other clues about his parentage in his wake: He's an artisan and a doer, as adept at carving religious statuary as raising the roofbeams on the demolished Baptist church; he lives in a barn owned by a local woman (Camp), although raindrops dare not fall through the many cracks in its ceiling; his presence makes everyone around him feel better and more confident; he tellingly raises the dead; and a widowed woman revealingly named Maggie (Edwards, the abused deaf woman from In the Company of Men) thinks she has fallen in love with him. In fact, everyone comes to adore him except defensive Father Pete (Oscar winner Abraham), who seems to have some bug lodged up his butt about a perceived slight from the Church hierarchy regarding a wished-for appointment to the Vatican. The informality of his junior pastor Father Pat (Fuller) also provides father Pete with a constant source of irritation. Meanwhile, Joshua (who goes by only one name -- like all the real superstars) continues doing good deeds in the community and furthering the citizens' universal sense of good will. After a time, if any residents still remain doubting Thomases, all questions about the true identity of Joshua subside when the humble carpenter receives a summons to see the Pope (played by longtime Lina Wertmuller cad Giannini). And if the Pope, in turn, harbors any doubts, the bodily transubstantiation act that Joshua pulls while chatting with His Eminence ought to convince the pontiff about who's who and what's what. All in all, the current spate of Christian films is notable for its growing proficiency and deep pockets, which help attract big-name stars to these projects. The narratives, however, are proving to be lame exercises in transparent religious parables. The character of Joshua is based on the novel by Father Joe Girzone and is presumably viewed as a serial hero. Yet one key problem with these ardently Christian storylines is that there is never any question of how things will turn out. The apocalypse always comes. Good always triumphs over evil. And a humble carpenter by any other name is still Jesus.

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Joshua, John Purdy, Tony Goldwyn, Colleen Camp, Stacy Edwards, Kurt Fuller, F. Murray Abraham, Giancarlo Giannini

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