The Austin Chronicle

Beyond the Mask

Rated PG, 103 min. Directed by Chad Burns. Starring Andrew Cheney, John Rhys-Davies, Kara Killmer, Alan Madlane, Adetokumboh M'Cormack, Charlie Newhart.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 12, 2015

Offering a change of pace from the usual faith-based film dramas, Beyond the Mask is a historical swashbuckler. Even if some of its history and buckles are askew, the film is still an original take on a Christian redemption story.

Having more ambition than apparent budget, Beyond the Mask suffers from a clunky script (by Stephen Kendrick and Paul McCusker) which is full of hackneyed aphorisms and improbable history, beginning in 1775, when mercenary killer William Reynolds (Cheney) tenders his resignation to Charles Kemp, head of the East India Company. Reynolds wants to be through with committing dastardly tasks in India for the conscienceless megacorporation of its day that won’t let him out of its clutches. Conveniently, Reynolds swaps identities with a dead parson and manages to convince a whole village that he’s the real deal. The object of his affections is Charlotte Holloway (Killmer), a lovely young woman whom he regards as the embodiment of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Much to everyone’s surprise, Charlotte’s uncle turns out to be his former employer, Kemp, and as they say in such situations, the jig is up. Reynolds soon makes his way to the American colonies where, in the spring of 1776, he goes to work for the printer Ben Franklin.

Only John Rhys-Davies manages to imbue his character with any personality, making an excellent villain while elaborately trilling his R’s. The remaining actors deliver drab performances, although the film’s colorblind casting interestingly features several black men in roles that would be historically dubious. And who knew that Ben Franklin was a secret bomb-maker? While working for Franklin by day, Reynolds commits raids at night as the masked and mysterious Highwayman, who resembles the iconic Lone Ranger. Ultimately, Reynolds, Franklin, and the rest of the rebels save the day by foiling a Guy Fawkes-styled detonation of the Continental Congress.

“Only God can give us new lives” is the story’s redemptive message. With the brassy, insistent music that swaths every inch of Beyond the Mask, the filmmakers clearly don't want to leave anything to speculation. However, stronger filmmaking technique would go a long way toward delivering a clearer message.

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