Film review: Singles Ward, The

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 20 2004 12:19 p.m. MST

A word of advice to the makers of "The Singles Ward": Celebrity cameos do not automatically equal laughs. And neither do clichs, no matter how "inside" they are.

Unfortunately, this locally produced romantic comedy, which aims itself squarely at the LDS audience, too often leans on both when the going gets tough — and neither are actually funny enough to prop up this flimsy piece of fluff.

What is particularly disheartening is that such a move seems to suggest the filmmakers didn't really have enough confidence in their story. Of course, it is based on an extremely creaky premise — disaffected Mormon rediscovers his faith when he finds love with a straight-laced churchgoer.

Still, one thing does save this LDS comedy from being completely excruciating — the appeal of the fresh-faced cast, led by Will Swenson as a stand-up comedian named Jonathan Jordan.

The lovelorn twentysomething comic is divorced, a marriage that ended badly when his convert-wife decided that the LDS life wasn't for her. So since then, Jonathan has become slightly embittered toward the LDS Church, even rebuffing all efforts at fellowship.

That might come to an end rather quickly, though. Despite his reservations, he finds himself attracted to Cammie (Connie Young), the activities director for the LDS singles ward.

Things get off to a rocky start — thanks to a lie he told her during their first encounter — but the two seeming opposites quickly become inseparable. However, their burgeoning relationship may be put to the test when Cammie receives her mission call just as Jonathan is offered a six-week gig.

Co-writer/director Kurt Hale (grandson of local theater legend Ruth Hale) has the unfortunate tendency of lingering long after each joke's punchline, and the score (by Cody Hale) is so strident you can practically hear a wah-wah sound telling the audience when to laugh.

To their credit, the cast members do their best to make this work. Swenson and Young have a natural, unforced chemistry (though sometimes his range is strained by the more dramatic material).

Even better are supporting cast members, especially Daryn Tufts, Kirby Heyborne and Michael Birkeland, who play Jonathan's faithful next-door neighbors — and who might have served as the focus for a more interesting, funnier movie.

The cameos, on the other hand, are a decidedly mixed bag. While the appearance by LDS filmmaker Richard Dutcher (making fun of his hit "God's Army") is amusing enough, the others are either unsuccessful (bits involving local sports heroes Danny Ainge, Steve Young and Wally Joyner) or downright irritating (those with TV weatherman Mitch English and computer pitchman Super Dell).

"The Singles Ward" is rated PG for some mildly suggestive talk, brief violence (automotive mayhem) and a scene of helium inhalation. Running time: 102 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com