If 2013's "The Saratov Approach" represents the dramatic interpretation of the "Mormon missionaries in trouble" theme, then "Inspired Guns" wants to be the comedic side of that coin.
Unfortunately, the strengths of the first film underscore the weaknesses of the second.
The "Inspired Guns" setup shows plenty of lighthearted potential. Elder Fisher (David Lassetter) is a week shy of his release and tasked with a seven-day fix-it job on his "problem child" companion, a slacker from Park City named Johnson (Dashiell Wolf) who thinks he's rapper Eminem. Elder Fisher has been dreaming of a mystery investigator who will provide a spiritual capstone to his mission experience and is not happy to be spending his final week doing damage control for his companion's wanna-be gangster antics.
It's a relatable situation, even if Johnson's eccentricities feel a bit overplayed. But "Inspired Guns" is just getting started.
One day while working downtown, the elders contact a pair of cartoon mafia goombahs, inadvertently save them from a mob hit and wind up caught in a tangled web of mistaken identity.
From here, director and writer Adam White takes a few plot lines with potential and combines them with a handful more until "Inspired Guns" becomes a well-intentioned caper that is just too overloaded to make sense. Some of the comedic elements are a lot of fun, such as the elders leading a confusing discussion on the importance of family with the confused mobsters, or another miscommunication that leads them to believe the first book of Nephi (mispronounced "Neppi") is an encoded escape plan sent by their mafioso godfather.
But more often, the "wucka-wucka" brand of humor misses its mark, and feels tedious next to the film's better-executed scenes.
Several of these disparate plots come together toward the end of the film and almost justify some of the earlier material. But there's still a sense that the individual parts aren't coming together. Believability is a tight line to walk, even with wacky comedy. And as "Inspired Guns" careens between zany and heartfelt, it's difficult to understand just what tone White was going for.
Of course, "Inspired Guns" may be a victim of timing more than anything else. As the first major LDS-themed release to come in the wake of last year's successful "Saratov," this new story contains enough echoes to last year's drama to work against it. Clearly "Inspired Guns" is going for a different effect, but its uneven tone and weak writing become more obvious in "Saratov's" shadow.
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"Inspired Guns" will struggle to find an audience outside of mainstream Mormondom, as it assumes an extensive knowledge of LDS culture and doctrine without providing much in the way of context. So in that sense, the film is a viable option for LDS families looking for a comedy low in offensive content (though some violent content later in the film is quite shocking compared to the innocence of its first two-thirds). But in a big-picture sense, "Inspired Guns" is a nice idea that could have used some better execution on the ground level.
"Inspired Guns" is rated a mild PG, mostly for some elements of relatively intense violence.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at woundedmosquito.com.