Friday, January 05, 2007

'Thr3e' is a z3ro

You may have seen previews for the mystery/thriller Thr3e on the Sci-Fi channel recently, and perhaps were slightly surprised that you were watching a trailer for a theatrical movie and not a straight-to-video release. But after seeing 'Thr3e' (opening toda in select markets) via a screener disc recently, what jumped out to me is that the previews do not tout its one selling point: as being a Christian mystery thriller.

Based on the popular Ted Dekker novel of the same name, 'Thr3e' is distributed by Fox Faith -- a new Christian wing of Twentieth Century Fox -- and on paper would appear to be a viable attempt at getting a mostly clean Hey-People-This-Isn't-7th Heaven! Christian movie into the mainstream. Why? The book (which I have not read) has a plot that's pretty much ready-to-film, even though it borrows heavily from many other better movies ('Saw,' 'Se7en'). Wait Adam -- you're saying a Christian movie could resemble 'Saw' or 'Se7en'? That's exactly its problem, in trying to cater to more mainstream movie fans, 'Thr3e' is ultimately a failure as both a straight-up thriller and a Christian movie.

The story follows Kevin Parsons -- a young seminary student who is very good at looking sullen -- who suddenly finds himself tormented by a villain who uses a voice-altering device and a bunch of vintage mini reel-to-reel players to ensnare his victims in easily-escapable traps and puzzles. The villain desperately wants Kevin to confess his sin (as we are frequently told), lest his bland bomb-laden puzzles continue to unspectacularly explode 'round the city. Luckily Kevin has childhood friend Samantha at his side -- who took an interest in his emotion-free existence at an early age -- and a female detective who was once a target of a similar villain.

The Christian hook outside of Kevin being a seminary student is that there are cursory biblical references in the villain's puzzles -- and a desperate attempt to develop a theme of good vs. evil within man. If you're looking to take your family to a Christian movie, the preceding is really all you get -- oh wait, there is a priest character at the end who issues a weightless proclamation that we must put our trust in God, but you've probably heard that line before. Like the trailers airing, 'Thr3e' contains no Christian message, unless you count the fact that it's a 'Se7en' clone made without gore or harsh language.

So people looking for a Christian movie will be disappointed, but so will the handful of folks who get lured in via the non-Christian Sci-Fi Channel trailers. This is your by-the-numbers thriller where people dash from one dark corner of a city to another, featuring haggard-looking cops in trench coats and manufactured suspense under the constant drone of the villain's digitally-altered voice through a cell phone. The puzzle-killer aspect of the movie would seem to be a chance for success, but one dreadfully dull sequence illustrates how this device fails: a friend of Kevin is found with a bomb strapped to him and the words 'wages of sin' written on his fore head -- in a frantic race against time, Kevin remembers where in the bible these words are spoken, and uses the verse and chapter numbers to stop the bomb. Why would a killer go to that much trouble when he's up against a seminary student? What's more, there's never any sense of danger because the bombs left by the killer never really do any harm because of how poor the movie's pyrotechnics are. Example: characters run away from a refrigerator right as it explodes in a fireball, but when they return to it five seconds later, the blast has only mildly scalded the inside of the appliance.

The answer to many of the movie's confounding lack of excitement can be found in the 'twist' ending taken straight from the book. Looking back, it would seem that a twist of this sort could be an ace-in-the-pocket of 'Thr3e' -- like 'Signs' or 'The Village' -- but it ends up being terribly unsatisfying and almost completely unblievable. What starts out with the intentions of a theme on confession and good vs. evil ends up being an ancient plot device that relies on a stereotypical view of the mentally ill that I thought Hollywood buried for good in the 1970s. Any 'Amen' you may say at the end for its alleged Christian message will only be for the sight of the closing credits.

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