Movies produced with the support of religious or pseudo-religious groups typically employ one of two structures to get their message across: 1) Outsider comes to a sleepy town and wakes it up with his message of love and compassion or ability to perform miracles. Or 2) Armageddon arrives, the saved ascend to heaven, and the poor saps left on earth suffer through hell.
Fortunately Joshua is the former, and it's probably the most mainstream release to ever make it to theaters. With stars Tony Goldwyn, F. Murray Abraham, and Stacy Edwards, this is a classy production. Not only is the acting credible and the production values high (they even trek to Rome for the finale), but the story isn't all bad either. It's actually pretty simple: A man named Joshua (Tony Goldwyn) wanders into the sleepy town of Auburn one evening, rents a barn to live in, and promptly starts rebuilding the recently-burned-down Baptist church, unbidden by its parishioners. Meanwhile, the local Catholics take an interest in the cryptic man, employing him to carve a wooden statue.
But soon the Catholic Father Tardone (F. Murray Abraham) starts to get a bad vibe from Joshua. For starters he questions Tardone's sermons invoking the wrath of God, but when Joshua starts healing the blind and resurrecting the dead, well, Tardone gets mighty peeved. Joshua even converts Father Pat (the inimitable Kurt Fuller) right out of his Catholic priest's collar. Eventually an audience with the Pope himself is extended, where we will learn the truth about Joshua once and for all. Or do we?
Directed by Jon Purdy, who wrote The Guyver and previously helmed Unabomber: The True Story, it would be easy to shrug Joshua off as a budget production from a bunch of overzealous hacks. But putting its incredibly simplistic and single-minded plot aside, Joshua has enough going for it to earn a qualified recommendation. Goldwyn is winsome in the title role (though I always prefer him as the villain), and Abraham is characteristically good, playing Salieri to Goldwyn's Mozart. Fuller and Edwards round out the supporting cast imicably.
But at it's heart, Joshua is still a movie about religious mysticism, and it thusly absolves itself from having to make total sense. After all, when you resurrect a dead man, Hard Copy should come a-knocking, no? The ending makes no sense, either, serving only as a way to get to the credits. There's nothing left to think about or ponder, only a slap to the back of the head with a 2x4.
After all, a religious picture that really challenged old beliefs or, heaven forbid, made you think? Well, that would be a miracle.