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Film Review: ‘Grace Unplugged’

This tepid and predictable story of a young Christian singer flirting with secular stardom is unlikely to attract crossover audiences.

With:

AJ Michalka, James Denton, Kevin Pollak, Shawnee Smith, Michael Welch, Jamie Grace, Pia Toscano, Chris Tomlin, Kelly Thiebaud.

The makers of “Grace Unplugged” deserve at least some credit for resisting temptations toward melodramatic excess in spinning their story about a young Christian singer’s flirtation with secular stardom. But even though they may be successful at preaching to the converted, their tepid and predictable pic isn’t likely to attract crossover audiences. Expect fair to middling niche-market B.O., and slightly better numbers in homevid sales.

Eighteen-year-old Grace Trey (AJ Michalka) is introduced at a point somewhere between sullen resentment and open rebellion in terms of her relationship with her father, Johnny Trey (James Denton), a one-hit-wonder rocker who, after fueling his crash-and-burn collapse with drink and drugs, found God and took a job as music minister at an Alabama church.

Not surprisingly, Johnny’s control-freakish direction of her contributions to their church performances — and his threat to ditch her from his Christian music band if she don’t stop mouthing off and questioning his edicts — only serve to push Grace toward flying solo, far from the family nest. When she’s offered a chance to record a new version of Johnny’s decades-old hit by Mossy Mostin (Kevin Pollak), her dad’s former manager, she decides it’s time to spread her wings.

After she arrives in Los Angeles, Grace is so thrilled about the possibility of “making it” as her first single charts that she willingly turns herself over to the image remakers — who rename her “Gracie Trey” — and even has a drink or two (or more) at promotional events. But she’s uncomfortable about singing the innuendo-laden songs Mossy wants her to record on her debut album. Worse, she’s unable to write any songs herself.

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Fortuitously, or providentially, Grace meets Quentin (Michael Welch), a record-company intern who just happens to be a born-again Christian, a big fan of Grace’s dad, and a much better influence than, say, Renae Taylor (Kelly Thiebaud), the superstar pop tart who tells Grace that a woman’s body is her currency. “Sometimes,” Renae hisses in a manner meant to sound more debauched than Beelzebub, “you have to spend it.”

Writer-director Brad J. Silverman doesn’t do himself any favors by encouraging his players, especially Michalka, to deliver their lines like grade-school teachers emphasizing important life lessons to a class of slow learners. On the other hand, he stops well short of depicting the secular showbiz world as a cesspool of sin and salaciousness, and actually suggests in a fleeting scene near the end of “Grace Unplugged” that some people — not Grace, mind you, but some people — can be perfectly happy while pursuing a career not entirely focused on God.

Silverman also upends a few expectations raised, inadvertently or otherwise, by his cast. For example, Pollak sports a Mephistophelean goatee and a sporadically smarmy demeanor, but Mossy never makes the full transformation into pervy slimeball that early scenes seem to signal. On the other hand, Welch initially comes across as so anxious and overly solicitous, viewers may be reminded of a “Psycho”-era Anthony Perkins. In a different sort of pic with a different kind of agenda, his character probably would have sprung some very nasty surprises on Grace.

Production values are adequate.

Film Review: 'Grace Unplugged'

Reviewed at Edwards Marq*E Cinema, Houston, Oct. 4, 2013. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 102 MIN.

Production:

A Lionsgate release, in association with Roadside Attractions and Orion Pictures, of a Lionsgate presentation, in association with Mark Burg, of a Coram Deo Studios production, in association with Birchwood Pictures. Produced by Russ Rice, Larry Frenzel, Christopher M. Zarpas, Robert E. Norton. Executive producers, Burg, Larry Mestel, Daniel Jason Heffner, Anne Parducci, Jason Constantine, Eda Kowan.

Crew:

Directed, written by Brad J. Silverman, from a story by Silverman, Brandon Rice, James Killian. Camera (Deluxe color), Stash Slionski, editor, Robert Hoffman; music, Jeff Lippencott; musical supervisor, John J. Thompson; production designer, Darian Corley; costumer designer, Anna Redmon; sound (Dolby Digital), Humberto Zamores; assistant director, Joth Riggs; casting, Emily Schweber.

With:

AJ Michalka, James Denton, Kevin Pollak, Shawnee Smith, Michael Welch, Jamie Grace, Pia Toscano, Chris Tomlin, Kelly Thiebaud.

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