The Pretender, Part 1
Check it out: we haz a trailer!
As you can see, we’re going to fast-forward in Christian Film History, for one of the Christiano Brothers films. Rich and Dave Christiano have been making Christian movies since the mid-1980’s, and The Pretender is one of the first.
And you know what that means…
The film opens on the first day of school. Buddies Nick, Keith and Dean (l to r in the picture above) are snarking on the girls of their high school, and succeeding in making themselves thoroughly unlikable.
Quick Note: This is Keith and Dean’s only movie. This surprises me, at least as far as Keith goes, since I think the guy has more than a little talent. But it is Nick (Donnie Keshawarz) who would end up with a successful television career, including recurring roles in The Sopranos and 24.
When Dana shows up, Keith decides that He Must Have Her.
But, Keith! You’re persona non grata with the chicks! They’re well aware of your reputation for “getting what you want, and then dumping them.” (In Keith’s own proud words.)
But don’t worry: Keith has “a technique” (oh, wowwww…wait, he doesn’t mean that kind). He finds out what interests a girl, and feigns interest in the subject himself. This technique has served him well in the past with girls interested in art or music. Though his friends complain that it seems like an awful lot of effort, Keith shrugs it off and just calls it “homework.”
So what is Dana’s interest that Keith can exploit? Why, she’s a Christian. All Keith needs to do is study a bit, “learn the lingo,” and he’s in! And to make sure he’s Doin’ It Right, Keith will also convince his ex-friend Frank that he’s now a Christian. See, Frank used to hang with Keith and his buds until he “got religion” two years ago.
After which, as we’ll soon see, Frank turned into a self-righteous know-it-all.
Despite his friends’ protests that Frank will be impossible to convince…Keith manages to pull it off within 90 seconds. (He even uses the tired old “my cousin told me about it” line. Oh, come on.) Good little Amway drone that he is, Frank immediately asks if Keith has started proselytizing to Nick and Dean (please bear in mind that Frank is under the impression that Keith has been a Christian for less than four weeks). Keith brushes this off with pleas that he feels nervous and that he doesn’t know enough to convince them. This way, not only can he keep hanging with his friends, but he can use Frank as a constant source of information.
Now obviously, it is very wrong of Keith to misrepresent himself, but…well…darned if I don’t find myself starting to respect his intelligence and the way he’s thought this plan through.
I am of equally mixed mind about the film’s attitude towards Keith’s lack of knowledge of Christianity. I respect that the film doesn’t take the easy way out of so many other films, not to mention the infamous Chick tracts: having the non-Christian character know nothing about Christianity (“Jesus? Who’s that?”). At least the film admits that merely by growing up in the States, Keith has enough basic knowledge to fool Frank without any prior study whatsoever.
But then…when he goes to the bookstore, he asks for the clerk’s help to find “the Bible that Jesus preached out of.”
His books in hand, Keith heads home for the first of many study sessions. Generic 80’s “rock” music plays as Keith makes notes and uses multiple sources of reference (geez, I’m liking this kid more and more!).
The next day, Keith’s prominent display of his new Bible on his desk causes Dana to strike up a conversation with him, culminating in her inviting him to her youth group. There, he tells the same story he told Frank…and once again, he is believed. And by everyone, including Dana.
Meanwhile, Frank has invited Keith to one-on-one “discipleship meetings.”
Check me on this—are discipleship meetings supposed to be only two people, one of whom has been a Christian for two years, and the other for one month?
As Keith takes copious notes, Frank spouts off about whatever pops into his head…much of it complaining about other Christians:
“I have to warn you, Keith, there are a lot of people who say they love Jesus, but then they don’t even bother obeying Him. What’s that, a halfway Christian?”
“You need to be real careful when it comes to the physical stuff [when dating] because that’s where most couples have their downfall.”
Keith keeps to his plan—he invites Dana on safe, chaste dates, including Frank’s cross country meets, and wandering around by the lake. He doesn’t so much as kiss her or hold her hand, but he is unfailingly polite and sweet to her. And he never misses an opportunity to parrot one of Frank’s lessons at her. All in all, it’s working up to be quite a masterful piece of manipulation.
And…and…okay, I shouldn’t be down on a movie for not being what it is not trying to be. Keith is the bad guy here (and right now, he certainly is). He’s lying to get what he wants, and engaging in a very long-term manipulation of a girl, just so he can get into her pants. But boy, the story would be so much better, so much more powerful, if we could see Keith slowly starting to truly like Dana in spite of himself. If he actually started enjoying her company and seeing her as more than just another conquest. It would make his inevitable unmasking and downfall so much more poignant.
Oops, sorry. Didn’t mean to give away the ending like that.
Stay tuned for Part 2!