Same River Twice

“Same River Twice,” a new film written and directed by BYU graduate Scott Featherstone, has the following things going for it: It’s sincere, it’s wholesome and it’s beautifully filmed on several scenic rivers.

It’s the sort of movie that would be ideal for parents to take their families to if it weren’t for one thing: It’s boring and goes nowhere.

Four friends who used to spend summers working as white-water guides on the Green River have drifted apart after a major river-related tragedy, but are now reuniting for another rafting trip.

The four men’s lives are much different now, 13 years later. Kramer (Robert Curtis-Brown), who narrates the story, has a wife and a sickly daughter. The slacker Skinner (John Putch) has done nothing with his life in all this time; his brother-in-law, Gene (David Gowgill) is on the trip, too, trying to motivate Skinner, who thinks Gene is just a stick-in-the-mud. (Do you suppose maybe they’ll BOTH have to give a little?)

There’s also Mikey (Dwier Brown), now an evil attorney, who has brought his girlfriend along to see if their relationship can withstand constant togetherness. Rounding out the original four is Stan (Shea Farrell), a bitter divorced fellow who can’t relate to his son, who is also on the trip in order to be berated by his father.

Oh, and there’s BYU grad Kevin Rahm as the unfunny comic relief, Moocher.

This is not meant to be a plot-driven movie. In fact, every time something potentially interesting happens — a boat drifts away, someone falls out, people have arguments — the film conscientiously quells it before it can grow into an actual conflict.

Instead, we’re meant to focus on the characters and the growth and healing they each experience on this trip. Alas, for that to work, the characters have to be engaging, which they are not. They tend toward the bland, two-dimensional, under-written side, and with so many rafters on the trip, it’s often hard to keep straight who brought which emotional baggage.

Religion is not specifically an issue here, but there are moments when Latter-day Saints will definitely begin to think of church films they’ve seen. “Same River Twice” wears its cheesy heart on its sleeve, often resulting in sappy over-sentimentalism, and only briefly coming across as slightly moving.

Credit is due, however, for Featherstone’s dedication to the film. Shooting a movie on the water is one of the most difficult things to do, and this movie takes place on rapidly moving water. The cinematography is nice, too, giving us some lovely scenery to look at.

But no matter how wholesome a film is, or how good its intentions are, it cannot be exempted from what films are supposed to be. “Same River Twice” usually fails when it tries to be entertaining, and almost always fails to be uplifting, moving or enlightening. Sure, the characters all learn something and come away as better people. But a watered-down script and average acting prevent us from ever caring much about them in the first place. A harmless film, sure, but hardly worth watching.

C- (; PG, mild thematic elements..)