Entertainment

Breakthrough feels like it would be more at home on small screens than the big one

Secular critics review Christian dramas at their peril. When I heard of the true story behind this one – 14-year-old falls through ice, mom prays, child makes unheard-of recovery – I was immediately worried. Should I ask the cynical question: Why doesn’t God save everyone who prays? Or even more problematic: If I don’t pray and someone dies, is it somehow my fault?

Kudos to Breakthrough for not dodging the doubters, and instead asking a version of these queries itself, and then providing the only real answer there is: No one knows.

The screenplay is by Grant Nieporte (Seven Pounds), based on Joyce Smith’s 2017 book The Impossible: The Miraculous Story of a Mother’s Faith and her Child’s Resurrection. That at least explains the odd tagline: “Based on the impossible true story.”

The plot is straightforward: John Smith (Marcel Ruiz) is a star basketball player but otherwise a bit of a slacker at Water of Life Christian Middle School in St. Louis. (The city is played by Winnipeg with some judicious establishing shots of the Gateway Arch.) A half-hour into the movie, John and two friends go out on the river ice for a bit of fun and fall through.

Atheist paramedic Tommy Shine (Mike Colter) swears he hears a voice directing him to John’s body under the ice, and thereafter acts as the audience stand-in for any non-believers in the crowd.

Back in hospital, the medical team gives up hope, but not John’s mom (Chrissy Metz of TV’s This Is Us). She calls on God to save her son, and suddenly he has a pulse. Now it’s up to Dr. Garrett (Dennis Haysbert) to do his best, aided in matters spiritual by the Smiths’ well-meaning but awkward pastor Jason (Topher Grace). On-screen titles helpfully alert us to how much time has passed since the accident.

As a parable of faith in the face of adversity, Breakthrough is without reproach. As a bit of dramatic entertainment, however, it feels oddly slack. The screenplay goes out of its way to set up Jason as a villain, and even suggests some bullying at John’s school, but once the tragedy takes place all that tension falls away, and we are left with only John’s father (Josh Lucas) as the nearest thing to a bad guy, for not having enough faith in the recuperative powers of his son.

Add to this such movie missteps as John’s bedroom – it was clearly decorated by a set designer with a one-word memo (“Basketball!”) and not an actual teenager – some slapdash editing, and the film’s habit of signposting every turn in its plot – and Breakthrough feels like it would be more at home on small screens than the big one. That said, if you’re going to watch a film about a resurrection, this is the week to do it.

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