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Mark Wahlberg’s Father Stu is a dull, lifeless movie

Mark Wahlberg gained 14kg for the role and spent millions of his own money funding it, but was the effort worth it? No.

There arrives a moment, about two-thirds of the way through Father Stu, when you wonder why this particular story was chosen for a biopic.

Because either the filmmakers have made dull and uninteresting the story of Stuart Long, the man whose life is immortalised on screen or the tale was never compelling enough in the first place.

Why did Mark Wahlberg choose to shepherd this as his passion project, pouring millions of his money into it? Is it because the deeply Catholic Wahlberg related to the story of a reformed boxer who became a priest after a near-death experience only to then be diagnosed with a degenerative disease?

On the surface, it ticks a lot of boxes for a drama, with its themes of redemption, suffering and acceptance but the execution has all the finesse of a midday movie with a cast of former soap stars.

Father Stu is so lifeless that saccharine would’ve been an improvement.

Key to the disappointments is Wahlberg is woefully miscast in the role. While he’s convincing as a scrappy, foul-mouthed boxer and as a man of faith who earnestly spouts scripture, you never shake the impression that Wahlberg is playing Wahlberg. He doesn’t have the gravity necessary for the role.

At no point do you feel like you’re gleaning any insights or understanding into Stuart Long other than the same biographical details on his Wikipedia page.

Stuart (Wahlberg) is an unsuccessful amateur boxer pushing retirement. Unable to use his fists for a living, Stu decides to try his luck as an actor and moves to California. His career highlight ends up being an infomercial for a miracle mop.

While working in a supermarket, he chases down a woman, Carmen (Teresa Ruiz), who belongs to the local Catholic parish. Carmen won’t entertain being with a man outside of her faith so Stuart agrees to start the process of baptism.

It’s the turnaround he needed after a dramatic life involving bar fights and run-ins with the police.

His relationship with his parents Kathleen (Jacki Weaver) and Bill (Mel Gibson) have been strained after an earlier family tragedy, and they are both unbelievers and struggle to understand their son’s new leaf.

Father Stu, written and directed by first-timer Rosalind Ross, goes through the motions of the character’s conversion but they are perfunctory beats and it often feels jumpy, as if there’s connective tissue missing. There’s little care given to those transitory moments of character development.

It is possible that a faith-based audience may find more in Father Stu than a mainstream one, able to connect with it on a different level than a regular moviegoer whose interest was piqued by a bus poster with Wahlberg’s face.

There have always been movies made specifically for religious audiences, they just rarely feature recognisable actors or cross over into a wide release. When they do, it’s not unreasonable for a mainstream audience to expect that there would be more to sustain the movie.

Rating: 2/5

Father Stu is in cinemas from Thursday, May 12

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