×

Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians

Not to be confused with last year's Jesse Eisenberg vehicle, diverting docu "Holy Rollers" chronicles what happens when two normally well-separated worlds collide.

With:
With: Ben Crawford, Colin Jones, Adam, Benjamin, Bradley Currah, David, Eddie, Ford, Jason, Jeremy, Mark Treas, Mike Foster, Shirley.

Not to be confused with last year’s Jesse Eisenberg vehicle, diverting docu “Holy Rollers” chronicles what happens when two normally well-separated worlds collide. Its subjects are a group of young Christians, mostly from the Pacific Northwest, who realized they could make rent and devote more time to the Lord’s business by training themselves to count cards at casino blackjack tables. Treated as a sort of jaunty nonfiction caper by helmer Bryan Storkel, pic doesn’t probe deep but sustains the entertaining lure of its novel premise. Fest travel could be followed by niche VOD, broadcast and possible theatrical gigs.

Protagonists might easily be taken for 30-ish hipsters, but appearances deceive: They’re all pastors, church leaders and/or congregants very much dedicated to their faith. (Pic’s major omission is that it doesn’t describe the precise tenets or logistics of their spiritual practices, though their sincerity is never in doubt.) Most struggle to support young families and spend time in worship-related activities while working as public schoolteachers, in construction, etc.

Then Seattle-based friends Ben Crawford and Colin Jones hit upon the idea of counting cards. Despite some hand wringing (“I hate casinos … they just suck goodness out of the world,” one participant says), they rationalize that taking funds from exploitative institutions in order to have more free time for family and flock does not constitute a sin. They consider it a calling, not a hustle.

This, however, is not an opinion shared by casino staff and gambling officials. While card counting isn’t actually illegal — being, as one person says, just “addition and division” — the venues certainly consider it cheating, and are quick to escort out, detain and/or ban any player whom their extensive surveillance suspects of using a system to beat house odds.

Despite being repeatedly thrown out of joints as a result (Crawford particularly enjoys donning outlandish disguises to elude that fate), the “Church Team” at first succeeds beyond its wildest dreams, enabling some to work at blackjack tables a mere 40 hours a month for a sustaining income distributed evenly among all investors.

But despite rigorous training and recurrent self-testing, their luck turns and they pile up some scary losses after a half-year winning streak. Some team members, with life savings or mortgages at stake, get cold feet. As the range of players and participants expands beyond a close circle of church friends, trust ebbs, and suspicions arise that someone might be stealing from the collective kitty. An agnostic newbie is fingered, though sole evidence of his guilt is one fervent believer’s claim that “the Holy Spirit told me.” (Said newcomer is duly dropped.)

Though it often seems money inevitably corrupts, the principal subjects here (most identified only by first name) are convincingly idealistic, taking this bizarre, even unseemly route not to get rich quick, but simply to better support their loved ones and ministries. Still, we find out far less about the faith that plays such a big part in their lives than we do about the gambling team’s process and the defensive tactics of highly unamused casino personnel.

Polished package makes good use of gambling-related film clips (from “Rain Man,” “The Hangover,” “South Park,” etc.), alt-rock tunes and one clever sequence of simple animation.

Popular on Variety

Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians

Production: A Connell Creations presentation of a BBCI production. Produced by Jason Connell, Amy Storkel. Executive producers, Bryan Storkel, Connell, Alex Gelhorn. Directed by Bryan Storkel.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Brian Liepe; editors, Bryan Storkel, Amy Storkel, Michael Weinreich; music, Frank Lenz; sound, Martin Kittappa, Matt Sheldon; re-recording mixer, Peter S. Carlstedt; graphics, Darren Lindsay; animation, Scott McKenzie. Reviewed at Seattle Film Festival (Northwest Connections), June 12, 2011. Running time: 93 MIN.

Cast: With: Ben Crawford, Colin Jones, Adam, Benjamin, Bradley Currah, David, Eddie, Ford, Jason, Jeremy, Mark Treas, Mike Foster, Shirley.

More Scene

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Keke Palmer BlogHer19 Summit

    Keke Palmer Brought to Tears Accepting Truth Teller Award at #BlogHer19 Creators Summit

    Keke Palmer stood surprised and wide-mouthed on the #BlogHer19 Creators Summit stage as she was presented with the Truth Teller Award for her recent acting work — and her viral “sorry to this man” clip. “This means so much,” the multi-hyphenated star softly whispered as she got teary-eyed upon accepting the award. Last week, the [...]

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 19:

    Emmys 2019: Inside All the Hottest Pre-Parties

    It’s (Emmys) party time! Before the 71st annual Emmys go live on Sunday, stars and execs are keeping busy by party-hopping in the days leading up to the big show. Here, Variety gives you the inside details on who was where and what they were doing. Keep checking back right here throughout the weekend for [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez Green Dress

    Jennifer Lopez Closes Out Versace Show in Famous Green Grammys Dress

    Jennifer Lopez has found her way back into the Versace dress that broke the internet in 2000. The “Hustlers” star closed out Versace’s Spring 2020 show in a re-worked version of the revealing, bright green silk chiffon dress that she wore to the Grammy Awards 20 years ago. The dress quickly became a pop-culture phenomenon, [...]

  • 10 Storytellers to Watch

    Variety Celebrates Inaugural 10 Storytellers to Watch Event

    Storytellers from across the spectrum of entertainment — film, literature, podcasting and play writing — were honored Thursday at Variety’s inaugural 10 Storytellers to Watch luncheon at Gramercy Park Hotel, hosted with partner the Independent Filmmaker Project and presented by Audible. Honorees Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of “Friday Black”; “Limetown” podcasters Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie; [...]

  • Demi Moore Corporate Animals

    Demi Moore Teases Upcoming Memoir 'Inside Out,' Talks 'Corporate Animals' Team Bonding

    As Demi Moore gears up for the Sept. 24 release of her autobiography “Inside Out,” the actress says she feels like a weight has been lifted. “Even the stuff that I may have been nervous about is completely lifting…because it’s a process,” Moore told Variety at the premiere of her upcoming film “Corporate Animals” at [...]

  • Connie Britton BlogHer Summit

    Connie Britton on ‘Friday Night Lights’ Remake: ‘You Need to Let it Go’

    Connie Britton opened up at a fireside chat Wednesday at the #BlogHer19 Creators Summit in Brooklyn by talking about one of her most beloved roles — Tami Taylor in the fan favorite series “Friday Night Lights.” When asked if a remake of the sports cult film and Emmy-winning TV show is in the works she [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content