IN THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR WITH JARED HESS DOUBLE-TAKE REVIEW: The final Hess film in this marathon is “Don Verdean,” which stars Sam Rockwell (Moon, The Way Way Back), Jermaine Clement (Flight of the Concords [TV series], What We Do in the Shadows), Amy Ryan (Birdman: Or [The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance], Escape Plan), Danny McBride (Pineapple Express, This Is the End), Leslie Bibb (Iron Man, Law Abiding Citizen), Will Forte (The Last Man on Earth [TV series], MacGruber), and Steve Park (Fargo , Snowpiercer). It is directed by Jared Hess (Masterminds, Napoleon Dynamite), who also co-wrote it with Jerusha Hess (Austenland, Gentlemen Broncos). Legendary biblical archeologist Don Verdean (Rockwell) finds himself in a tight spot when he is tasked by a church to locate several artifacts that come from the Bible.
And so the marathon ends with Hess’s latest project, “Don Verdean.” When I first found out about this film on IMdB, I was pumped. Any movie being made by Jared Hess is a treat. The story I read was interesting and different, as I haven’t seen a movie like it. So, there were high expectations, expectations which this film could not meet. Hess’s films have been mainly produced by Fox Searchlight, an industry where a ton of Indie releases resonate from. “Nacho Libre” has been the only exception so far, being produced by Nickelodeon. Either way, Hess has been able to express his zany, outlandish desires in his stories. With this new release, Lionsgate is the production company to back it up. Why am I talking about this? Because the biggest issue I found with “Don Verdean” was that it didn’t feel like his work. Companies can have a majority of creative control, depending on what they are. In watching this movie I felt like Jared Hess didn’t have a lot of reign, as his crazy, eighties-vibe directing collided with the Hollywoodish, general filmmaking that is used heavily today. The Hollywoodish feel tended to prevail, providing me an experience that felt like any other. It felt polished, as if Hess was succumbing to newer times, and not like a time capsule filled with a buttload of keepsakes which bestowed a fresh, new world to escape into. I’m not saying that this film was awful. It had its redeeming moments. It just could have been better if Hess molded it to his favor. The story, although interesting, dragged incredibly. The first act was rough as we moved at a dry rate which offered little jokes to chuckle at. This movie as a whole was funny, just nowhere near as much as other Hess projects. The characters didn’t seem special, but rather caricatures of pure mockery. They made me laugh at times, but they would leave me without memorable characters to latch onto. The only one that was unforgettable was Boaz, portrayed by Jermaine Clement, who was hilarious. The acting in general was great, everyone performing well. I wished that Sam Rockwell was given more comedy than being a straight man, but he did fine in his shell all the same. Once the second act rolled along, I had no clue where this thing was going. The aspect of them hunting artifacts was entertaining, but their situations offered little outrageousness as to what Hess usually does. I actually began to check the time, because I was ready to get out of the empty excavation site that is this picture. But then the scandal came along. I won’t go into spoiling, but once Jermaine’s character came to America, things began to pick up speed. Before I knew it, I was thrown into a whirlwind, filled with more comedy than what this movie had to offer previously. I began to love it. When the third act came and the ending neared, I was excited once again, the way I felt when I first found out about this film. Without the ending, I think this story would have plummeted into Burnt Popcorn. Off topic, I want to discuss a one more point on my mind. Although the acting was great, I felt that the “big” stars weren’t necessarily needed. Will Forte, Danny McBride, and Leslie Bibb were all good, but I felt that they didn’t have much of a part in the plot. Familiar faces can scream for bigger roles in the eyes of the beholder, and these stars I know didn’t get much. They could’ve been portrayed by anyone else. Heck, I would’ve liked it more if Hector Jimenez, the actor who played Steven on “Nacho Libre,” played one of the roles on this. But hey, it is what it is. And so that concludes this final review. I thought “Don Verdean” had some strong points, but was lacking in much more overall. If you are a Hess fan, try it, you may find some fun like me. If you aren’t, then skip over it. FINAL SCORE: 77%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: