Rene Syler

"Thr3e" is a genuine oddity, a psychological thriller aimed at Christian ticketbuyers -- and, not incidentally, heavily promoted through religious bookstores and radio stations -- that plays more or less like a blandly secular popcorn flick.

“Thr3e” is a genuine oddity, a psychological thriller aimed at Christian ticketbuyers — and, not incidentally, heavily promoted through religious bookstores and radio stations — that plays more or less like a blandly secular popcorn pic. Indeed, you could argue that weighty questions about the nature of evil and the allure of sin figured more prominently in the similarly titled “Se7en,” one of several other, better suspensers dimly echoed here. It will take some kind of miracle to attract mainstream multitudes during the pic’s limited rollout. But the faithful may be drawn by the source material, from bestselling Christian author Ted Dekker.

Trouble is, anyone unfamiliar with Dekker’s tome will just have to take it on faith that the book is more involving and exciting than the generic farrago served by scripter Alan McElroy (who co-wrote the film of the post-Rapture adventure “Left Behind”) and helmer Robby Henson.

The plot focuses on Kevin Parson (Marc Blucas), a twentysomething seminary student who’s stalked by a mad bomber known as the Riddle Killer. For reasons only gradually revealed, the serial exploder targets Parson as his latest unwilling opponent in a sadistic cat-and-mouse game. The cruel sport involves menacing phone calls, voice-distortion technology — yes, you can count “Saw” among the pic’s other influences — and, occasionally, very big bangs.

The Riddle Killer (or, as he’s referred to by cops and tabloid reporters, RK) demands that Parson “confess” some past transgression if the seminarian doesn’t want a close friend, some total strangers and/or a beloved pet blown to bits. Even after Parson admits to a very, very bad thing, however, the calls keep coming, and the bombs keep detonating.

There’s precious little in the way of clammy tension or mounting apprehension as “Thr3e” plods toward a climax that is startlingly absurd, yet not entirely illogical. Still, there is an undeniable novelty in having an anxious male protagonist require the help of not just one but two strong-willed, gun-toting women: Samantha (Laura Jordan), an insurance investigator who was Kevin’s childhood sweetheart, and Jennifer (Justine Waddell), a police profiler who lost a brother during an earlier matchup with RK.

Most of the performances are understated and unremarkable. A glaring exception, for all the wrong reasons, is Priscilla Barnes’ grotesquely twitchy, scenery-chomping turn as Kevin’s self-dramatizing aunt. Production values are on a par with an early-1990s vidpic, with locations in Lodz, Poland, adequately doubling for some anonymous North American metropolis.

It’s worth noting that at least one plot point — a character is revealed to have been psychologically scarred, and perhaps sexually molested, while being home-schooled — may offend some members of the pic’s presumptive target aud.

Thr3e

Production

A Bigger Pictures release of a Namesake Entertainment production in association with Total Living Network and Movieroom Prods. Produced by Joe Goodman, Bobby Neutz, Ralph Winter. Executive producers, Marek Sledziewski, Wotjek Frychowski, Max Ryan, Jerry Rose. Co-producers, Michael Webber, Kelly Neutz. Directed by Robby Henson. Screenplay, Alan McElroy, based on the book by Ted Dekker.

Crew

Camera (color), Sebastian Milaszewski; editor, Anuree De Silva; music, David Bergeaud; production designer, Wojciech Zogala; costume designer, Kaja Srodka; assistant director, Marta Parlatore; casting, Karen Meisels. Reviewed on DVD, Houston, Jan. 4, 2007. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Kevin Parson - Marc Blucas Samantha Shear - Laura Jordan Jennifer Peters - Justine Waddell Milton - Max Ryan Belinda Parson - Priscilla Barnes Eugene Parson - Tom Bower Bob Parson - Jeff Hollis Slater - Bill Moseley Doctor Francis - Philip Dunbar
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more