Bland inspirational indie "Ordinary Sinner" merits applause for being a rare faith-based drama about sexual tolerance -- its central theme being the struggle between Christianity and homophobia -- though what's onscreen is far too vanilla to spark much enthusiasm. Beyond gay fest slots as a curio, feature will fare best as a broadcast item.

Bland inspirational indie “Ordinary Sinner” merits applause for being a rare faith-based drama about sexual tolerance — its central theme being the struggle between Christianity and homophobia — though what’s onscreen is far too vanilla in both content and execution to spark much enthusiasm. Beyond gay fest slots as a curio, feature will fare best as a broadcast item. If one incongruous early partial-nudity seduction scene is excised, it would make an excellent spur to social issue discussion amongst church groups and classroom viewers age 12 and up.

Protag Peter (Brendan P. Hines) has dropped out of seminary school since his counseling of an Albany, N.Y., teen failed to save the latter from serious trouble. His mission and faith badly shaken, he slinks back to a Vermont university town where childhood friend Alex (Kris Park) and sexy student Rachel (Elizabeth Banks) try to coax him out of depression. Peter’s erstwhile religious mentor, Father Ed (A Martinez), tries likewise.

The priest (whose Episcopalian order doesn’t require celibacy) comes out of the closet when campus gay bashings and one churchgoer’s virulent homophobia force him to go public in his relationship with Mike (Peter Onorati), owner of the pizza parlor where Peter now works. This news divides the congregation, and various community members are suspected of spreading anti-gay propaganda.

A tragic death abruptly throws everyone into a mournful mood, while Peter sinks yet further into bitterness and doubt. Pic’s earnest if heavy-handed morality play to this point is thrown somewhat off-kilter by a last act introduction of strained thriller elements, when it appears the aforementioned death might not have been accidental after all. Weak resolution pegs the crime on script’s most vaguely defined character.

Perfs are serviceable given preponderance of banal dialogue like “I tried running away once — I’m not going to do it again.” Apart from some attractive use of the Vermont landscape, debuting feature director John Henry Davis’s presentation is on the routine end of competency, with tech and design factors following suit.

Ordinary Sinner

Production

A Thief Co. presentation. Produced by Chris Bongirne, John Henry Davis, J.B. White. Executive producer, William Mahone. Directed by John Henry Davis. Screenplay, William Mahone; story, Mahone, Davis, J.B. White.

Crew

Camera (color), Mathieu Roberts; editor, Paul Zehrer; music, Brian Adler; production designer, Henry Dunn; art director, Daniel Meeker; set decorator, Kate Foster; costume designer, Christianne Myers; sound (DTS), Tyler Stephens, Max Kalmanowicz; assistant director, Monique LaMontagne; casting, Vince Liebhart, Tom Alberg. Reviewed at Roxie Cinema, San Francisco, June 13, 2002. (In San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Fesitval.) Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Brendan P. Hines, Joshua Harto, Kris Park, Elizabeth Banks, A Martinez, Peter Onorati, Chris Messina, Daniel Sherman, Nathaniel Marston, Kia Joy Woodwin, Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
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