Apparently intended as a warning to the faithful, “Persecuted” imagines an American government that plans to subvert Christianity under something called the Faith and Fairness bill. But the movie is less a polemic than a thriller, and it’s barely the latter. Set in a diabolical Washington but filmed a long way away, “Persecuted” is so halfhearted that it doesn’t even bother to mask the New Mexico license plates on the cars.
The story’s plotter-in-chief is Sen. Harrison (Bruce Davison), who fails to persuade popular nondenominational evangelist John Luther (James Remar) to back the proposed law. Harrison’s response to Luther’s rebuff is one that is probably less common in Washington than “House of Cards” fans would imagine: The senator has the preacher framed for raping and killing a teenage runaway.
Luther is drugged, bloodied and disgraced, but otherwise not significantly inconvenienced. While the FBI and the Secret Service swarm in to arrest him, he slinks around town barely impeded, checking in with allies such as his father, a Catholic priest who apparently enjoyed a non-celibate period. Dr. Charles Luther is played by Fred Dalton Thompson, who, as a former U.S. senator, really should have known better.
The cat-and-mouse stuff is clumsily staged, ineptly photographed and hopelessly oblivious to police (or cop-show) procedure. There’s no discussion of DNA evidence to support the rape charge, and the fugitive makes calls from his cellphone over several days without being traced. The guys who frame Luther are really mean but also such amateurs that they don’t even notice a woman videotaping the scene on her phone.
The embodiment of writer-director Daniel Lusko’s grievance is Harrison. The senator stands for people who say, as he does, “This is no longer a Christian nation.” But the filmmaker also is pretty rough on the directors of Luther’s organization, who are depicted as greedy and self-serving. The U.S. president also seems to be a villain, but he — or at least his accent — is modeled on Bill Clinton, not on any president who detractors think is a Muslim.
The movie would probably be more interesting had it fully articulated its vision of Christianity under fire. Instead, it budgets most of its slow-moving 91 minutes on absurd intrigue and unconvincing violence, bracketed by fast-mo inserts of downtown D.C. and the Mall. That’s why “Persecuted” should outrage American moviegoers of all faiths and creeds. We can do political paranoia much better than this!
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains violence, drugs and alcohol. 91 minutes.