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Thursday, April 11, 2002

Backward, Christian soldiers

Movie: The Other Side of Heaven

Posted on Thu, Apr 11, 2002 at 4:00 AM

**1/2
Our Rating: 2.50

The Mormon cinema movement represented by "Brigham City" and "God's Army" marches on in "The Other Side of Heaven," director/writer Mitch Davis' reality-based tale of a missionary doing the Lord's work (or at least Joseph Smith's) in the Tongan islands in the 1950s. If you think that a Westerner's right to "save" a backward people will be seriously explored, you're missing the point of this professionally made but sappy sermon of a film, in which witness-bearing wuss John Groberg (Christopher Gorham) overcomes cultural barriers and braves the harsh elements to spread the Word to some cute dark-skinned folks. Meanwhile, his patient sweetie (Anne Hathaway of" The Princess Diaries") waits for him at home.

Most of the story's potential is undone by Davis' treacly characterization and plotting. Will an audience of nonelders wait the 46 minutes it takes for a serious conflict to rear its head? Despite the fine cinematography -- most scenes were shot on Raratonga in the Cook Islands -- this long and relentlessly saccharine film is a clear case of preaching to the converted. Its best entertainment comes early on, anyway, when we hear Groberg seemingly reject one aspect of his faith by moonily asserting that one girl is enough for him. The Mormon the merrier, I say.

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