Michael Birkeland

That "The Home Teachers" looks and sounds more like an actual film than HaleStorm Entertainment's two other movies is a real accomplishment.

Both "The Singles Ward" and "The R.M." were pretty much amateur hour — low- to no-budget films filled with out-of-focus shots and fuzzy sound, as well as little plot (truth be told, they resembled filmed "roadshows" more than anything else).

For all its technical achievements, the company's latest — and least-funny — comedy makes you yearn for the quaint incompetence of the other two films. It's as if in trying to tell an actual story the filmmakers have taken a big step backward.

And its "homages" to such beloved comedies as "Tommy Boy" and "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" are too obvious, verging on comedic plagiarism.

The title characters are Greg Blazer (HaleStorm regular Michael Birkeland) and Nelson Parker (Jeff Birk), two LDS Church members who begin butting heads when they're assigned to be home-teaching companions.

That's because they couldn't be more different. Greg would just as soon spend his Sundays in front of the television, watching professional football and eating chicken wings. The gung-ho Nelson — who's new to the ward — wants to start their visits immediately.

And to Greg's surprise, his wife (Elizabeth Sands) agrees with Nelson and practically kicks him out the door. (She's basically hoping the experience will do him good.)

But with the first visit, things go horribly awry. As Greg sneaks away to take in some gridiron action, he sets in motion several small disasters that destroy the unfortunate family's home. And things only get worse from there.

The bits cribbed from other movies only make you wish you were watching those instead. And the tonal shift in the film's final third, from slapstick to more saccharine drama, is much too jarring.

The two leads try to make the material better — even if their efforts are in vain. Birk, whose character looks sort of like Jerry Seinfeld in a Pee-Wee Herman Halloween costume, doesn't overdo it as much as you'd expect. And Birkeland does have a likable, everyman quality that certainly helps.

"The Home Teachers" is rated PG for scenes of comic violence (hunting, vehicular and slapstick), crude humor and sight gags (relating to bodily functions) and scattered use of mild (and creative) profanity. Running time: 81 minutes.


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