Good-natured and innocuously wholesome, "The R.M." marks a reunion for the collaborators behind last year's similarly Mormon-themed "The Singles Ward." Pic, now expanding past its target religious niche audience in Utah and other states, should finish in the ballpark of $1.5 million domestic theatrical take, with brisk video biz to follow.

Good-natured and innocuously wholesome, “The R.M.” marks a reunion for the collaborators behind last year’s similarly Mormon-themed “The Singles Ward,” including writer-director-producer Kurt Hale, co-screenwriter John E. Moyer and actors Kirby Heyborne and Will Swenson. Pic, now expanding past its target religious niche audience in Utah and other states with large Latter Day Saints populations, should finish in the ballpark of “The Singles Ward’s” $1.5 million domestic theatrical take, with brisk video biz to follow.

Pic’s title is LDS patois for a “Returned Missionary,” in this case a wide-eyed young lad named Jared (Heyborne), who sets out for his two years of mandatory church service certain that, upon his return, the life he left behind will be waiting for him. Two years later, though, no one remembers to greet him at the airport upon his return. Worse, his girlfriend (Erin M. Robert) has become engaged to another man, the company he worked for has gone out of business, and his family has sold his car and given his bedroom to a Tongan exchange student (Salt Lake City radio personality Leroy “Big Budah” Te’o). Post-mission life becomes something of, well, a living “heck.” Having blown his life savings on an engagement ring he can’t return, Jared tries his hand at a variety of odd jobs, from waitering to telemarketing — all of which he fails at spectacularly. Meanwhile, he finds himself increasingly tempted by the wayward life embraced by best friend, Kori (Will Swenson). It’s all enough to drive a man to drink, which in Jared’s case means sidling up to a bar and ordering (gasp!) a Diet Coke. “The R.M.” climaxes in a protracted and needlessly didactic courtroom sequence wherein Jared –implicated in one of Kori’s fraternity pranks — must decide whether to stick to his upstanding, truth-telling ways (even if it means possible jail time) or take the easy (but sinful) way out.

Pic ambles along as a string of hit-and-miss, loosely strung together comic episodes, much along the lines of “The Singles Ward,” but with more universally accessible humor. Still, there’s more than enough reference to Orin Hatch and Tonga (the New Zealand island that has long been a hotbed of LDS missionary activity) to keep the uninitiated scratching their heads, while offering pic’s target audience intrinsic kitsch value.

“The R.M.” reps an overall advance on “The Singles Ward,” with Heyborne and Swenson continuing to make decent comic foils for each other as a kind of Mormon Martin & Lewis. And while pic’s ultra-low budget and Hale’s sitcom-esque directing style are conspicuous, they hardly cripple what is a fundamentally modest and self-effacing venture.

As in “The Singles Ward,” pic’s soundtrack is comprised almost exclusively of Mormon children’s songs and religious hymns, performed by an assortment of name Mormon musical artists. As pic’s press notes declaim: “Mixing the often-staid LDS/Christian church hymns with a modern rock beat really brings them to life.” Who’s to argue?

The R.M.

Production

A HaleStorm Entertainment, Inc. presentation of a HomeComing production. Produced by Dave Hunter. Executive producers, Kurt Hale, Hunter. Directed by Kurt Hale. Screenplay, John E. Moyer, Hale.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Ryan Little; editor, Wynn Hougaard; music, Cody Hale; production designer, Doug Ellis; art director, Cory Lorenzen; set decorator, Anne Black; sound, Jeff Carter; associate producers, Wally Joyner, Todd Pedersen, Eric Martinis, Keith Nellesen, Mark Comer, Steve Black, MTCCookies.com, Brad Plowman, Will Swenson, Don Ainge; casting, Michelle Wright. Reviewed on videocassette, Los Angeles, Sept. 4, 2003. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Jared Phelps/The R.M. - Kirby Heyborne Kori - Will Swenson Kelly Powers - Britani Bateman Emma Phelps - Tracy Ann Evans Brigham Phelps - Merrill Dodge Duey - Michael Birkeland Sariah Phelps - Maren Ord Humu - Leroy "Big Budah" Te'o Defense Lawyer - Curt Doussett
With: Wally Joyner, Jericho Road, Gary Crowton, Rulon Gardner, Larry H. Miller, Jimmy Chunga, Ruth Hale, Ruth Todd, Randall Carlisle, Scott Christopher, Lincoln Hoppe, Mitch English
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