Before we get into talking about Beckman, the latest and strangest offering yet from Christian film distributor Pure Flix, let’s get a quick show of hands (even though I can’t see them): who ordered or asked for a right wing, amateurish, deathly boring, devout and devotional reworking of the John Wick and Taken franchises that fails spectacularly in every way to be exciting, pious, or even remotely entertaining? Someone might have asked for one of those things, but certainly not all of them, which means Beckman is at least going the extra mile to be terrible. Instead of being all things to all people, Beckman is nothing to anyone.
Pure Flix co-founder, inexplicable Christian movie star, and charisma void David A.R. White stars as Aaron Beckman, a well dressed, Wick-like assassin who’s trying to outrun his violent past. After his supposed “last job,” Beckman stumbles into a Los Angeles area church looking for sanctuary and salvation. He pays the church’s deeply indebted pastor (Jeff Fahey, who I’m assuming got paid in cash like his character for such a brief performance) to take him in. When the pastor passes away, Beckman takes over day-to-day operations at the church, delivering uninspired sermons to what appears to be rapidly depleting numbers of parishioners. (Or, at least I think they’re meant to be intentionally bad. I really can’t tell anything about the tone of Beckman for certain.) He’s pulled back into his old ways by the arrival of Tabitha (Brighton Sharbino), the niece of the church’s former pastor. Frightened and with nowhere else to turn, Tabitha has escaped from a cult. Aaron adopts Tabitha and attempts to give her a good, normal life, until the leader of the cult she abandoned (William Baldwin, in what would be a career killer performance if there was anything left to kill) kidnaps her.
Beckman opens with a poorly timed, insensitive, thinly veiled musing that California wildfires are “cleansing” forces reigning down upon the wicked state, but that’s as far right and offensive as this generally gets. For the most part, Beckman is a weak, forced, half-speed clone of dozens of better, non-denominational thrillers from the past decade, right down to the inclusion of a Girl with the Dragon Tattoo styled hacker (Anna Zielinski, who also serves as a producer). It’s an odd move for a studio built on Christian themed fare to make something that barely preaches anything at all besides steering clear of cults run by members of the Baldwin family. (Side note: was openly proud Christian Stephen Baldwin somehow unavailable to do this?) The counterpoint to that statement is why anyone would want to cobble together bits and pieces of better movies if they were going to utilize them with minimum expended effort?
The messages within Beckman are all over the place, with each new moral argument contradicting anything that came before it. The push and pull between Beckman’s desire for bloody “eye for an eye” vengeance against those who flout God’s law and the belief that violence solves nothing are feebly written extremes that are constantly getting lost in the shuffle. There’s no moral quandary here, and neither side really wins out, making the supposedly “Christian” subtext absolutely meaningless. While speeches speaking out against violence are clearly impassioned, Aaron refuses to listen to them, for the most part, killing everyone in sight (often before they can share any useful information with the hero) except for the one person he should probably kill.
Without an emotional or moral rudder, the journey of Beckman spins around in a sea of some of the least convincing fights and shootouts committed to screen. White is the furthest thing from an action hero, and director/co-writer Gabriel Sabloff hides his star’s obvious limitations – and the film’s woefully small budget – by keeping things as basic as possible and speeding up footage to make Beckman seem more badass than he actually is. White’s atonal and bland performance is bad enough, but the obvious staginess of the film’s action (which is, as one might expect, bloody, but not TOO bloody) kills even an ironic sense of amusement that one might have spotting the numerous continuity errors and logical gaps. Action thrillers – even terrible ones – have no excuse for being this lethargic.
The only thing viewers can do to pass the time while watching Beckman is to keep score of which more successful action movie will be ripped off next. There’s a surrogate for John Wick’s assassin hang-out, The Continental, only it’s mostly just random assassins trying to collect a bounty placed on the hero’s head, ominous phone calls, and a storage locker rental place run by Paulie from the Rocky franchise. White gets to do his version of Liam Neeson’s “specific set of skills” phone call from Taken. Some friends will turn out to be enemies, some enemies will turn out to be friends. None of it is surprising, and far less of it is entertaining.
About the only positives I can offer up about Beckman are that Sharbino is actually pretty good (considering what she has to work with), and Fahey isn’t around long enough to embarrass himself. There isn’t even a concrete pro-gun message worth complaining about, which one might expect from something this resolutely conservative. Beckman is a film so inert and useless that it doesn’t invite criticism either from “Godless left wing commies” like myself or the core, faithful audience that’s bound to be disappointed by its inert, cliched nature. The connection to the Pure Flix brand is surely enough to make people watch it both ironically and genuinely alike. In truth, it’s not worth the time and effort of anyone.
Beckman is available on DVD starting Tuesday, September 22, 2020.
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