Alex Kendrick ruins everything he touches. And that’s too bad, because in the case of THE LOST MEDALLION: THE ADVENTURES OF BILLY STONE, he got his grubby mitts on a surprisingly decent family fantasy adventure.
Who am I talking about and why am I bringing this up right off the bat? Hold on, I’ll get there.
The record of faith-based movies hasn’t been a good one. Many of them come off as amateurish, or they lack any subtlety with their message, which results in them literally preaching to the converted while the casual viewer loses interest I’m not saying that good faith-based films don’t exist. I’m just saying that I haven’t seen very many. Fortunately, THE LOST MEDALLION isn’t like that.
The medallion belonged to an island king who used the powers of the magical artifact to help his people. Unfortunately, the legend says that the king’s son lost the medallion and the king was soon murdered by those seeking to seize the power of the medallion for themselves.
In the present day, Billy Stone (Billy Unger) wants nothing more than to help his archeologist dad find the medallion of the title. Unfortunately, his dad doesn’t notice him and a rival group seems dedicated to stopping either of them from finding the lost relic. Billy’s only friend is Allie (Sammi Hanratty – THE UNIT, PUSHING DAISIES), a girl whose book smarts are sometimes overshadowed by her feelings of abandonment from her deadbeat mom. The two find the medallion, but are quickly chased by two obnoxious thugs. After the thugs take Billy’s father hostage, Billy wishes that none of this had ever happened, which sends Billy and Allie back in time to when the medallion was recently lost. When Billy turns up in the village wearing the medallion, they figure he had just found it. They dispose the new child king Huko (Jansen Panitierre – 8, THE FORGER and younger brother of Hayden), who sees his royal blood as proof of his superiority. When the evil Cobra (Marc Decastos – BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF) learns that the medallion has been found, he raids the village, enslaves the people and takes the medallion for himself. Cobra believes that this will make him and his army invisible. Imagine his chagrin when he realizes that the medallion only works with a kind heart. And even he realizes that raiding villages and enslaving the people isn’t very kind.
Billy, Allie, Huko and another youngster named Anui (William Corkery) escape Cobra and seek the knowledge and assistance of the elderly Faleaka (James Hong – Lo Pan himself!). After some training in which the kids learn some pretty complex science and strategy in record time, the group embarks on a quest to retrieve the medallion from Cobra’s fortress and save the kingdom.
Director Bill Muir makes his feature-length debut here and much to my pleasant surprise, is well-shot. Let me reiterate how important this is. In virtually every independent faith-based film I’ve seen up to this point, there have been glaring problems in how the films looked. Even as a fan of low-budget exploitation cinema, some of these films are plagued with some very obvious problems. It’s nothing that can’t be solved and I think the genre just needs time to grow up a little. But THE LOST MEDALLION is actually pleasing to the eye. The budget isn’t huge, but they manage to create some pretty good effects here. Muir and his cinematographer Brian Baugh (let’s give these guys some more credit, hm?) shoot in an anamorphic widescreen format that uses as much of that screen as possible. The editing is decent and Muir keeps things moving right along. This is a fine job for any director and a major accomplishment in a genre where you can’t always depend on the characters staying in focus.
Muir’s composition made this film a throwback to the fantasy adventure films of the 1980s and early 1990s. The tone of this film reminds the viewer of films like CHEETAH and SHIPWRECKED but also LEGEND and MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE. It never becomes a great film but there are moments when it does become a good one.
Some of the acting is admittedly not great. And I’m not sure everyone was on the same page. For instance, one of the henchman is overbearingly hammy. If anyone remembers Jon Lovitz when he used to do the “Tales of Ribaldry” sketches on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, it’s roughly the same type of line delivery. This caught me off-guard until I recognized this actor as Hal Rudnick, a comedian who has done a great number of humorous internet shorts. In another words, I think he was playing this as comic as the other videos he has worked on. He played the villainous Swiper in a hilarious fake trailer for a DORA THE EXPLORER film on collegehumor.com. He also did some humorous behind the scenes videos on porn parodies where he interviewed pornstars as they were having sex. I’d love to see Kendrick’s face when he realizes that.
It is a detriment that Muir couldn’t keep all the actors on the same page. Mark Decastos actually does a great job as the villain. He is every bit as memorable as one of the great villains of 1980s fantasy films, which this film emulates. As the bookish Allie, Hanratty does a great job, creating a character that is smart, funny and genuinely believable. In the title role however, Billy Unger just isn’t a very interesting character and he doesn’t give a good performance. Yeah, it seems rough picking on a little kid, but this part should have worked more. I would not be surprised if the subtitle for the film was an afterthought since most of the film is wisely made into an ensemble piece.
You may have noticed that nowhere in this lengthy description is there a mention of an overbearing faith-based message. That is because after enduring dozens of films in which the message was blasted over a loudspeaker every two minutes, THE LOST MEDALLION seemed to be heading for a more organic approach. The messages are there. They do not preach or harangue the viewer. They are universal messages with a Christian leaning that director James Muir integrated into the storyline, without sacrificing the narrative. In this film, the message is in told within the story. These are messages like the idea that all of us are equals and no one should hold greater power than another (Uh-oh, someone on the internet just cried “socialism” and probably spelled it wrong.). It sends a separate message of everyone’s unique worth and purpose, that just because you have been forgotten by those around you, that does not mean you have been forgotten and no one is an accident. Despite the frequent action in the film, it sends a message that kindness, humility and charity are the best ways to reach out to people and defeat darkness, even if it seems like a hopeless cause.
You may note that I say the film seemed to be going in this direction. Unfortunately, here is where we get into the meddling hands of Alex Kendrick. For those of you who didn’t recognize the name, Kendrick is the man who brought us such films as FIREPROOF and COURAGEOUS, terrible films with an earnest message and an overbearing delivery. Through some brilliant marketing to church groups around the country and a devoted cult following for his works, Kendrick has basically breathed new life into faith-based cinema.
Good for him, but his films are still terrible.
He tends to shoot everything the same and prides himself on mainly using an amateur cast from his hometown. A good filmmaker can get great performances out of non-actors. Kendrick cannot. And unfortunately, his style is tossed into THE LOST MEDALLION haphazardly and nearly destroys it.
Despite THE LOST MEDALLION already having a bookend story set in the present day and despite the plot already being pretty complicated as is, Kendrick has added his own bookend story to really hammer the message of the film with such force that the audience may suffer blunt head trauma. The film opens and closes with a sequence at a foster home in which Kendrick gives up his tickets to the football game to tell a story to the kids. He pinpoints the three newest kids in the home, troubled kids named – you guessed it – Billy, Allie and Huko (According to Dynastree, there are currently ten people in the United States with the name Huko so you can hardly blame the kid for freaking out when he noticed his name in the story). The acting in these sequences is terrible, the quality of filmmaking is inconsistent with the competency shown throughout the rest of the film and even the sound is cheap. Moreover, it should be noted that the kids in the foster home scenes are not the same kids as the main narrative, despite them having the same names.
A little research illuminates the possible reason why. THE LOST MEDALLION was shot nearly four years ago and is only now being released. The scenes featuring Kendrick and the kids were obviously shot much later and possibly by a completely different crew. Kendrick’s poorly recorded narration breaks into the story roughly every fifteen minutes or so, just when you’re getting interested in the story. It takes the viewer right out of the film.
What seems to be the case, and I have no knowledge whether this is true or not, is that the film was finished a long time ago and couldn’t complete its post-production. The film laid dormant for a while until some producers agreed to finish the work, as long as they made one little addition. Kendrick’s additional credit for “additional editing” seems to back up this theory.
What Kendrick’s addition does is completely undermine the rest of the film. Whereas the film had a message that was wonderfully and subtlety stated, Kendrick’s bookend spells everything out in an egregiously hamfisted manner, nearly breaking the fourth wall and preaching directly to the audience. Why was any of this necessary? THE LOST MEDALLION was already capable of standing on its own two feet. It showed the promise of being the type of film we’ve all been hoping for – one that presents a hopeful, universal message of tolerance and self-worth without hypocritically presenting itself as greater than its audience.
The audience is not as dim as Kendrick and his crew seems to think they are. Neither the children the film is designed for, nor even Christians to whom it will appeal to. None of us require the message to be spoonfed to us, while Kendrick soothes us with his message and rubs our tummy. To think otherwise is to insult the viewer and its the reason why most of the world doesn’t take this type of film seriously.
The release of this film could have easily been secured without this interference, but they just couldn’t leave well enough alone. It’s not quite enough to ruin the film but it some perilously close. Someone should remind Mr. Kendrick that pride is a sin too. ★★½ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated PG for adventure violence (Billy kills a guy!) and action
– Running time: 1hr 37mins.