Rambo meets Mother Teresa in “Machine Gun Preacher,” the true story of an ex-con biker who finds God and devotes his life to aiding orphans in war-ravaged Sudan.
Sam Childers, played with manic intensity by Gerard Butler, is a do-gooder with a nasty streak. He rescues desperate African kids, but doesn’t hesitate to mow down members of the Lord’s Resistance Army who slaughter civilians and force child soldiers to kill their own parents.
Childers is a charismatic figure worthy of big-screen treatment. Regrettably, director Marc Forster (“Monster’s Ball,” “Quantum of Solace”) and screenwriter Jason Keller never explain his remarkable transformation or schizophrenic personality.
When Childers gets out of prison, he returns home to his ex-stripper wife (Michelle Monaghan) and daughter in rural Pennsylvania, where he resumes his criminal ways with troubled best friend Donnie (Michael Shannon).
Soon, Childers follows his wife’s lead and finds Jesus. Inspired by a visiting preacher, he visits Africa and becomes obsessed with rescuing the youngest victims of a savage civil war. He neglects his thriving construction business and his own family while risking his life for strangers.
It’s yet another film about African suffering told through the eyes of a white person. The black children are mostly nameless symbols, except for a mute boy who teaches Childers an important lesson.
“Machine Gun Preacher,” from Relativity Media,” is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: **1/2
“Puncture” is a David versus Goliath legal drama about a couple of young Houston ambulance chasers who battle pharmaceutical and health-care giants trying to block the use of a safer syringe in hospitals.
Directed by brothers Adam and Mark Kassen, it’s a low-rent version of “Erin Brokovich.” Despite its less-than-polished look, the film packs emotional power and a serious message about corporate behemoths more interested in profits than the public good.
The real-life story centers on Mike Weiss (Chris Evans), a drug-addicted, personal-injury lawyer who persuades his partner (Mark Kassen) to take on the case of a nurse (Vinessa Shaw) who contracted HIV from an infected emergency-room needle.
They push for widespread use of a retractable syringe that could prevent such incidents, but hospitals and medical suppliers resist to preserve their sweetheart deal on the older, more dangerous needles.
Weiss persists, putting his practice and his health in jeopardy, while fighting the companies and a slick, high-priced defense attorney (Brett Cullen). The film barrels toward its tense climax, with few distractions along the way.
Evans, the hunky star of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” shows some acting chops as the flawed hero determined to do right no matter what the cost.
“Puncture,” from Millenium Entertainment,” is playing in New York, Los Angeles and Houston. Rating: **1/2
“Toast” is a savory coming-of-age story about growing up as a foodie in 1960s England. The aromas of pies, cakes, roasted turkey and fresh fish practically waft from the screen.
The film is based on a memoir by Nigel Slater, who went on to become a famous food writer.
Slater’s beloved mom (Victoria Hamilton) is lost in the kitchen, where she heats unopened canned food in a pot. After she dies, his stodgy dad (Ken Stott) hires a fun-loving cleaning woman he later marries -- much to the dismay of Nigel, who considers her a low-class gold digger.
Nigel’s epicurean nature baffles his father and annoys his jealous stepmother (Helena Bonham Carter), a gourmet cook who makes heavenly lemon meringue pies.
The cast is exceptional, led by Stott, Bonham Carter and Freddie Highmore, who plays Nigel as a teenager.
“Toast,” from W2 Media, is playing in New York and Oct. 7 in Los Angeles. Rating: ***
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)