Occasionally, a documentary is only as good as its subject matter, and on that score “Hard as Nails” — about youth minister Justin Fatica, who employs the physique and demeanor of a high-school wrestling coach on behalf of Jesus — ultimately goes limp. Fatica’s Elmer Gantry routine isn’t compelling enough to sustain a feature-length narrative, quickly becoming repetitive. After a while, it’s like “OK, we give up! You love Jesus. Will you please stop screaming in our faces?”
Admittedly, the 28-year-old Fatica doesn’t look the part of a clergyman, what with his ripped biceps and basketball jersey. He’s even shown patrolling the streets outside posh clubs to preach his message to sinners (or at least those hoping to sin a little before the night’s over). To demonstrate his commitment, Fatica regularly lets a member of his team crack him across the back with a metal folding chair as if this were a WWE event, and he talks about fiendishly working out as a means to avoid masturbating.
Unfortunately, director David Holbrooke doesn’t bring much more insight to the party, other than a respectful attitude toward Fatica’s proselytizing zeal. Indeed, there’s virtually no wider context here — unlike, say, Alexandra Pelosi’s “Friends of God,” which gently sought to shed light on evangelicals as individuals as opposed to a monolithic movement.
By focusing the lens so intently on Fatica, on the other hand, “Hard as Nails” has nothing more profound to offer. What emerges, then, is simply a snapshot of a not-that-interesting character driven by his faith — a young man taking his whacks (or not) for the greater glory of God.