Christian-Themed Revenge Thriller “Beckman”

“Revelation Road” writer & director Gabriel Sabloff’s Christian-themed revenge thriller “Beckman” (*** OUT OF ****) constitutes a departure for Pure Flix Entertainment. Pure Flix is known for its feel-good, faith-based, family-oriented film content. Most religious movies strive to evangelize more than entertain audiences. Often, they fall short on both counts. Chiefly, these movies appeal to a salvation-oriented religious demographic with the conspicuous doctrinal message bereft of subtlety.

An American independent Christian film production company in Albany, Georgia, Sherwood Pictures cornered this market well over a decade ago. They produced films such as “Flywheel” (2003), “Facing the Giants” (2006), “Fireproof” (2008), and “Courageous” (2011). Despite amateurish acting, low-budget production values, and hopelessly predictable plots, these formulaic films delivered everything their Christian audiences sought. “Beckman,” however, amounts to a borderline, R-rated, shoot’em up with a body count.

Remember, Pure Flix released the “God Is Not Dead” trilogy. Meantime, the “Beckman” protagonist is a paid assassin who stashes his rod after he discovers God. Eventually, he ends up in the pulpit after the preacher who had converted him succumbs to cancer. When a human trafficking ring abducts a female church member, Reverend Aaron Beckman (David A.R.

White of “Jerusalem Countdown”) backslides and resorts to a gun instead of a cross. Mind you, neither Sabloff nor his two writers Tommy Blaze and Steven Keller shrink from the chore of depicting blood and gore in this entertaining thriller. Sabloff stages several firefights as well as a visceral fistfight at the outset between two guys in a garage. Indeed, you see people die with geysers of blood erupting from their bodies.

Apart from its pervasive  spiritual content, Sabloff says movies like “Taken” and “John Wick” influenced him with their fodder and formula to forge his own revenge epic. Seasoned character actors like Burt Young of “Rocky,” tough guy Jeff Fahey, and William Baldwyn enliven this gunplay in peripheral roles.

An early glimpse of Beckman as he barrels through the doors of a church with bleeding bullet wounds is memorable. The pastor, Reverend Philip (Jeff Fahey of “White Hunter Black Heart”), advises him to head to the ER where his wounds can be treated with greater adequacy than he can in his church. Obstinately, Beckman refuses a ride in an ambulance. The hospital authorities would require proof of identity and ask too many prying questions.

Instead, not only does he persuade Reverend Philip to remove the rounds, but he also has him to patch up his wounds and then give him a place to chill until the coast is clear. Beckman relinquishes a satchel crammed with a pile of U.S. currency to Reverend Philip. While our hero heals up, the reverend sets aside a discretionary amount of the money for good causes. He incinerates the rest in his fireplace. He doesn’t flinch an inch when those green bills dissolve into gray ashes.

Eventually, Beckman turns over a new leaf, surrenders his life to the Lord, and Philip baptizes him in a metaphorical wash tub. Writer & director Sabloff and his scribes amp up the pace with Philip’s untimely demise from cancer. Despite his lack of formal training for the clergy, Beckman takes over the pulpit. Inevitably, Beckman feels unqualified to preach, but he overcomes this failing.

A year or so later, an attractive teen named Tabitha (Brighton Sharbino of “Miracles from Heaven”) bursts through the church doors seeking refuge. She assures the church secretary Abigail (Lynette DuPree of “Random Hearts”) and Beckman that Philip had promised she could seek sanctuary in his church. When Beckman offers her a lift to the ER, she turns him down and refuses to discuss her travails. A year elapses, and a sufficiently recovered Tabitha is outgoing enough to play guitar in the church as well as attend her high school graduation.

All of Beckman and the church’s hard work and good will is wiped away when evil human traffickers track Tabitha down and coerce her to return to the fold. Beckman tries to intervene, but these murderous thugs stick guns in his face. When feisty Abigail asserts herself, one of the traffickers, Eric (Alex Bentley of “The Outfield”), knocks her out cold with a savage love tap from his assault weapon against her skull.

At this point, our heroic preacher turns his back on the Cross and resurrects his pistol. We learn more about the mysterious agency, The Network, with which Beckman worked when he earned his living as a paid assassin. This outfit supplies its members with cheap flip phones. The Network is like the string of Continental Hotels in the “John Wick” movies. Specific rules must be obeyed without question. After Beckman realizes he needs the kind of intel he cannot get on his own, he contracts out to the Network.

The Network offers him a means to pay them back for their help or suffer lethal consequences. Beckman asks about Eric’s whereabouts. He locates this goon keeping a low profile out in the desert with a trio of pistol-packing bodybuilders. This is the first time we see Beckman shoot an adversary four times at point blank range. Later, he tracks down another member of the ring, Janice (Kira Reed Lorsch of “Cheerleader Ninjas”), to her posh suburban home.

He grilles Janice at gunpoint about Tabitha’s whereabouts, while her craven husband watches in horror as Beckman shoots him in the palm of his hand. Janice is a treacherous dame who turns the tables on Beckman and puts his life in jeopardy. He awakens in a basement with two other kidnapped girls, while Janice carves up his face with a knife. Although our gun-toting hero comes close to shooting and killing a woman, he never actually does.

This is about the same time our hero begins to experience remorse. The performances, cinematography, and action choreography are beyond reproach, and “Beckman” emerges as a straightforward thriller that juggles Christian values with the cliches and conventions of revenge films. “Beckman” qualifies as a revelation of sorts for religious-themed movies.

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