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Ministers, The
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by brianorndorf

"Boondock taints"
1 stars

Here we have a picture concerning a pair of bible-quoting brothers who justly kill in the name of God. Sound a little familiar? Well, much of “The Ministers” is poorly reheated leftovers from superior criminal adventures. That’s not to suggest “The Boondock Saints” is of any hearty cinematic value whatsoever, but I’ll take Troy Duffy’s Bushmills bravado over the chronic clumsiness of writer/director Franc Reyes any day of the week.

Having witnessed the execution of her detective father as a teenager, Celeste (Florencia Lozano) has grown to join the NYPD as an adult, out to find a pair of killers known as “The Ministers,” a team of religion-minded hitmen who were responsible for the murder. With partner/mentor Joseph (Harvey Keitel) in tow, Celeste inches closer to the identity of the brutes, hoping to find peace after years of torment. On the flip side of the situation lies Dante and his burn-victim brother Perfecto (both played by John Leguizamo), who struggle with their sense of biblical justice as their path of revenge winds down. For Dante, matters of guilt take a surprising twist with his attempts to woo Celeste, aching to form an emotional connection to a women he’s previously wronged.

With “Empire” and “Illegal Tender,” Franc Reyes has shown a disappointing lack of subtlety examining the unrest that bubbles within the New York City criminal underground. He’s not a stimulating filmmaker, offering little to the screen beyond clichés and low-budget stiffness, making for two decidedly inept motion pictures. Predictably, “The Ministers” joins this exclusive club without much of an effort, rolling out a routine of cops and criminals within a moderately perplexing crime drama, stuffed with far too many characters and too few elements of surprise.

“The Ministers” is derivative, but that doesn’t discourage Reyes, who worms the story around sleepy subplots concerning drug lords, crooked cops, and shattered pasts. I wouldn’t be stunned to learn the filmmaker once had a grander scope in mind for this picture, since the whole endeavor seems bluntly whittled down to a less intrusive 85-minute running time out of desperation, not clear editorial foresight. Characters and subplots are ill-defined and confusing at times, perhaps extensively slimmed from their previous scripted incarnation, rendered mush in a film that often doesn’t know exactly what story it wants to tell.

There are performances to cling to while Reyes gets lost in his own work. Though her television training blocks the primal agony of her performance, Lozano makes for a convincing lead, better with softer moods than anything that involves sneering. Leguizamo does fine in the Hayley Mills role, though Perfecto’s burn make-up leaves much to be desired. The actor hits the necessary notes of regret and brotherly love, while keeping the siblings distinct in both personality and speech. And Keitel looks like he’s doing Reyes a favor, but at least the veteran keeps it light where he can.

Matters become awfully cloudy in the second half, where Celeste’s concern is pushed aside for some ridiculous matters involving an overacting drug kingpin and a pair of dirty detectives. Reyes doesn’t know how to rein the tangents in, reaching for a moldy slice of irony to tie his threads together. “The Ministers” doesn’t thrill or enlighten (the religious slant to the material dries upon application), leaving Franc Reyes with another clunker to his name, and another film deep into his mystifying career.

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originally posted: 03/09/10 00:18:10
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  16-Oct-2009 (R)
  DVD: 05-Jan-2010



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