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THE SARATOV APPROACH

For Hicksflicks.com, Oct. 18, 2013

The film genre that is referred to as Mormon cinema — which could perhaps be better categorized as a sub-genre of faith/Christian films — has left a surprisingly large trail of undistinguished low-budget movies in its wake since "God's Army" debuted in 2000, ranging from the so-so to the barely watchable.

But for some reason the best seem to be those that focus on the LDS missionary experience: "God's Army," "The Other Side of Heaven," "The Best Two Years," "God's Army 2: States of Grace," "The Errand of Angels."

So it should be no surprise that "The Saratov Approach," in theaters all over Utah from Logan to St. George (and perhaps beyond), is one of the better examples to throw its hat into the arena.

Saratov is the name of a Russian city where a pair of LDS missionaries, Elders Tuttle and Propst (Corbin Allred and Maclain Nelson), are serving in 1998 when they are approached on the street by a clean-cut young Russian named Nikolai (Nikita Bogolyubov). He quietly asks them to drop by his friend's apartment the next evening, and although Elder Propst has an uneasy feeling about it, it's an opportunity to teach, so off they go.

But no sooner do they knock on the door than Nikolai and an older, shaggy-haired, and much more intimidating man, Sergei (Alex Veadov), attack them, handcuff them, threaten them with a gun and announce that the Elders are being held for ransom. Emotions run high and over the next few days the two missionaries pray, listen to the spirit and debate whether to make an active escape attempt or remain passive and possibly lose their lives.

A much more realistic and gritty movie than you might expect, "The Saratov Approach," rated PG-13 for some violence, is nonetheless toned way down from what a Hollywood filmmaker would likely do with the same, potentially R-rated material. Yet it could not possibly be any more compelling.

And there is an earnest, non-preachy, matter-of-fact approach to faith that is quite welcome in a movie climate that so often mocks, demeans or ignores the subject.

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Three major-studio pictures open this week, the sci-fi epic "Ender's Game" (PG-13), with Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley, based on Orson Scott Card's novel; "Last Vegas" (PG-13), a comedy about a quartet of oldsters heading to Sin City: Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Robert De Niro and Michael Douglas; and "Free Birds" (PG), an animated spoof starring the voices of Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Amy Poehler.

There's also a locally made holiday movie in the offing, "Christmas for a Dollar" (PG), a family story set during the Depression.

Art films are "A.C.O.D." (R), a comedy about marriage, divorce and commitment issues starring Adam Scott, exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas, and over at the Tower, the self-explanatory "Sundance Shorts Program 2013" (not rated) and the horror film "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane" (R).