You know going in where “The Grace Card” is headed.
It’s a low-budget faith-based film made largely by members of a Memphis, Tenn., congregation, and it’s a foregone conclusion that someone’s going to get saved.
But this effort from writer/director David G. Evans gets points for soft-peddling dogma in favor of human stories. And the film benefits from a compelling performance by Michael Joiner, a Kansas City-based standup comic who provides a watchable center.
Joiner plays Mac, a sullen, hard-drinking, tough-as-nails cop. Years earlier one of his two young boys was run down by a felon fleeing a crime scene. Now Mac is an uncommunicative (except for angry outbursts) brooder alienated from both his wife (Joy Parmer Moore) and their rebellious teenage son (Robert Erickson). He’s also something of a racist: It was a black man who killed his boy.
So Mac is more grouchy than ever when he learns that his new partner, Sam (Michael Higgenbottom), is not only African American but the pastor of a small church. Mac is not a guy you want to be humming “Jesus Loves Me” around.
“Grace Card” contrasts Mac’s out-of-control life with the happy, earnest simplicity of Sam’s family, including a grandfather (Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr.) who dispenses wise, God-centered advice.
Filmmaker Evans can’t avoid certain cliches of the genre, especially the temptation to pile on melodramatic coincidences to push Mac toward redemption.
But the performances by Joiner and Higgenbottom achieve a believable reality (even pastor Sam has problems), and “Grace Card” looks and sounds professional enough.
While the movie is unlikely to attract many viewers that aren’t already committed Christians, it will provide that under-served movie-going demographic with an entertainment that doesn’t sugarcoat the message.