Eric D. Snider

Suits on the Loose

"Suits on the Loose" inspires more commentary from the Faint Praise Department: These low-budget, low-impact Mormon comedies still aren't very funny, but at least they're looking more and more like real movies.

This one, the debut from writer/director Rodney Henson, has professional actors (i.e., ones who aren't awkwardly amateurish), and has been directed, shot and edited by people who evidently know how to do those things. It looks like something that could have come from Hollywood. Mormons need not be embarrassed, as they have been in some past instances, by the film's laughable production values.

Of course, they need not see it, either. This is as benign and forgettable a film as you can imagine, neither good nor bad but simply competent. It's not funny, but it's not irritatingly unfunny, either. It's not badly written, but it's not especially well-written. It's just ... there.

Clearly inspired by films like "Nuns on the Run" (even in the title), "Suits on the Loose" offers this standard Hollywood formula: Two people come to town posing as something they are not. They live an elaborate deception, wackily trying to impersonate whoever they're pretending to be. They do a terrible job of it, prompting someone to say, "You're not like any (fill in the blank) I've ever met!" -- yet still no one suspects they're fakes, either.

One of the fakers develops a crush on a local resident, a crush that would be requited under normal circumstances but that cannot be in this case because she thinks he's a woman, or a priest, or whatever. Eventually the truth comes out, the locals are angry at having been deceived, and the impostors go away forlornly. But they've come to love the life they were pretending to live, and the locals loved them, especially that one who had the crush. So they come back, humbly apologize, and everyone lives happily ever after.

(I'm sorry if any of that constitutes a "spoiler" for this movie -- not sorry I spoiled it, but sorry that you've never seen a movie before.)

In this case, the impostors are Justin (Brandon Beemer) and Tyler (Eric "Ty" Hodges II), two juvenile delinquents who escape from a military-style detention center in the Mojave Desert, steal a car belonging to two Mormon missionaries, and take those elders' spots in a town called New Harmony, Calif. (The real missionaries spend most of the film walking along desert roads, evidently never encountering another vehicle, a Highway Patrol officer, or a telephone.)

Now known as Elder Johnson and Elder Talbot, Justin and Tyler fall in with the local bishop (Robert Prosky) and spend many a morning at the local diner, where Sarah (Allison Lange) is the waitress and the love interest for Justin. Tyler, being the sidekick, is not allowed to have a love interest. Instead, he reads the missionary handbook for research purposes and slowly has his heart softened by the good people in the town.

The boys' plan is to steal some money and another car as soon as they can and hightail it out of New Harmony, but the kindly old bishop (shouldn't these missionaries have a district leader or something?) keeps sidetracking them with, well, missionary work. So there are scenes of the guys fumbling their way through a discussion, being forced into doing service work for a local non-Mormon (Reginald VelJohnson), having to bear their testimony in church, and so forth.

In those scenes, the film takes a few weak swings at comedy, usually missing, occasionally catching a piece of it, but never working up a sweat. Even if the jokes connected, they wouldn't be home runs. It's like the movie is determined to be congenial and pleasant rather than laugh-out-loud funny.

I did get a few chuckles out of the real missionaries, played by Shaun Weiss and Jason Winer, whose scenes of increasing desperation out in the desert are loopy and demonstrate a lot of comedic chemistry. I wish I could say the same for Beemer and Hodges, whose performances as Justin and Tyler are solid but unremarkable, both separately and as a team.

As a whole, the movie simply never takes advantage of its farcical premise. A certain level of mania is required to pull off something like this, and "Suits on the Loose" seriously needs to loosen its tie.

Grade: C

Rated PG, a little vulgarity, some fistfight violence

1 hr., 33 min.

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