Jumbled ‘Persecuted’ doesn’t cut it as thriller

07/18/2014 12:00 AM

07/16/2014 1:38 PM

The unholy bond between religion and politics is the background for “Persecuted,” a confused and confusing thriller about a TV preacher ruined by a sinister government plot.

Written and directed by Daniel Lusko, who has Christian documentaries among his credits, and having ex-GOP senator Fred Dalton Thompson and Fox News personality Gretchen Carlson in its cast, you can guess its politics.

But the targets are not clearly defined. There are evil feds, and righteous ones. There are veiled attacks on a Congressional effort to give all religions equal standing. The president is a devious Clinton look-alike. But big-time religion takes it on the chin, too.

So, “fair and balanced,” right? Not exactly.

James Remar, who broke out in films 35 years ago with “The Warriors” and later as the villain of “48 Hours,” is cast against type as John Luther, an ex-drug addict who now leads Truth Live!, a crusade that he aims to keep above politics, above religious denominations.

Sinister Sen. Donald Harrison (Bruce Davison) is pressuring Luther to endorse The Faith and Fairness Act, something backed by a Coexista-oriented organization called SUMAC. It’s incredibly vague what this will do, but it seems to be some sort of tolerance/equality act that will give all religions equal standing and all religions equal access to adherents to other faiths. Luther isn’t having it. But he’s been warned.

A drive home takes a turn toward the honey trap they’ve set for him. A girl dies. Luther is on the lam, hunted by the law, as his ministry tumbles into the hands of his second-in-command (Christian comic Brad Stine, pretty good).

The safe way to approach this is as the thriller it is supposed to be, and as such, “Persecuted” is pretty limp. There’s no urgency to the performances, no ticking clock to Luther’s desperate bid to clear his name.

Plus, the slapdash script fails to identify who, exactly, is persecuting Luther.

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