A filmmaking formula that often works—but just as often falls totally flat—is to mash-up elements from previous, successful films. Perhaps this is what Say Your Prayers is going for, mixing the idea of devoutly Catholic brothers who become hitmen from The Boondock Saints with the marooned hitmen stuck in a hotel after they fucked up trope so cleverly used by In Bruges. Add in the all-male chorus of singers from Blow the Man Down and surely you have a hit! But Say Your Prayers does not have any Irish characters. Perhaps that paucity of representation from the Emerald Isle accounts for the film’s failure to hold the viewer’s interest.

The plot of Say Your Prayers revolves around Tim (Harry Melling) and Vic (Tom Brooke), orphaned British brothers taken in and raised by a priest, Father Enoch (Derek Jacobi). Father Enoch sends them off to a rural Yorkshire village to assassinate John Huxley (Roger Allam), an outspoken and notorious New Atheist author who is speaking at a literary festival. There are myriad issues with Father Enoch’s plan, the primary of which is that Tim and Vic are morons. The film intends for their various misadventures and screw-ups to be hilarious, but the humor does not come off. Instead, it just feels like watching a comedian bombing: the viewer intellectually understands that funny is the intent but cannot find anything funny there and is left feeling impatient instead.

A lack of laughs in a nominal comedy is not the biggest issue for Say Your Prayers. The biggest issue is ethos in the classical Aristotelian sense: whose ideas are on the screen, why are his—and there is no doubt that the progenitor of the film’s ideas is a “he”—ideas the ones that are on the screen and for what purpose are these the ideas that are being screened. Say Your Prayers fails spectacularly on these questions and the whole film comes off feeling like an out of touch exercise in bad faith for no discernible reason. There is nothing creative in the storytelling here; again, the film is a mixture of The Boondock Saints and In Bruges. Just as troublingly, both of those films are beloved tokens of a certain sort of untrustworthy Dude Bro that is both over-represented and extremely vacuous. Second, the New Atheist wave has (thankfully!) already crested and has been receding for years, so the film feels five (or eight or ten) years too late. Compounding this is the fact that the New Atheists were also championed by the same obnoxious Dude Bro set and are/were themselves the overly shrill apotheosis of Little Dick Energy. These factors combine to make a heady mix of super shitty ethos components. Why is anyone making a film for the faux-smart Dude Bros we all hated in college? Plus, we already have a film on religion for the faux-smart Dude Bros we all hated in college: it is called Dogma and is actually pretty good. Add in to all of these issues the fact that the film has nothing remotely interesting or new to say about New Atheism, religion or the Dude Bros—comparing the level of intellectual rigor in this film with The Two Popes on the topic of religion is akin to comparing the basketball abilities of LeBron James and the average toddler—and the viewer can only wonder what Say Your Prayers is hoping to achieve.

Films can overcome a lack of originality and/or poor thematic foci. But they need to be exceptional at something—anything—in order to do so. Say Your Prayers is never overtly terrible, but it also lacks any stand-out element. The screenplay does not permit any of the characters to be interesting; Melling is clearly trying to make Tim, who is the chief protagonist, compelling, but the role is so poorly written he cannot quite get there. The cinematography is not objectionable, but neither is it noteworthy, even though a setting such as Yorkshire provides so many inherent visual advantages. The plot and its screwball-while-still-“saying something about New Atheism and religion”-climax are just “Meh.”

Why does this film exist? Say Your Prayers cannot muster an answer.

The whole film comes off feeling like an out of touch exercise in bad faith for no discernible reason.
38 %
Vapid and derivative

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