Extraordinary feels like a Christian marriage version of an after-school special. It's pleasant enough if you like that kind of thing, but there's nothing truly extraordinary about this message-heavy movie created and produced by Liberty University's film program. 2 out of 5.
College professor and ultra-marathon runner David Horton (Leland Klassen) is an open-heart-surgery survivor with damaged knees. His wife Nancy (Shari Rigby) thinks it's time for Dave to run home for good and focus on his family for a change. Instead, Dave feels called by God to race 2,900 miles across America and "inspire people one last time." That's all very noble, but will his marriage survive one more race?
The story is at its strongest when it focuses on Dave's wife, Nancy. Much more relatable than her husband, Nancy feels it's time for Dave to pay long-overdue attention to their family. Instead, he sets off on another big adventure, leaving her to hold the fort alone... again. Fortunately for Nancy (and the audience) she has a great support group. In particular, Nina (Karen Abercrombie) is the kind of friend we all hope to have and to be, someone who will tell the truth—good or bad—and walk us through it. Nina brings much-needed energy and a touch of sass to this otherwise sluggish story.
As with most movies of this genre, much of the "action" consists of people having earnest conversations. To its credit, Extraordinary places those conversations in interesting settings and gives the actors something to do instead of just sitting around talking to each other. Also, watch for an on-screen dedication at the end for a neat little twist on the film's title.
This story would make a terrific chapter introduction in a Christian living book or a short program segment, but there's just not enough plot here for a feature-length film. There's no real drama and zero suspense; it's obvious from the beginning how the story will end, making that ending feel a long time coming. Unless you're really, really into distance running, watching someone other than Forrest Gump jog along interminable highways is just not exciting, no matter how loudly the hero music plays in the background. The various landmarks Dave runs past help break up the monotony, but most of the time those scenes feel like filler.
There's an attempt to liven things up by regularly cutting to a hometown radio show where DJ Barry (Kirk Cameron) interviews Dave's fans and takes Dave's calls on-air. It's a good idea on paper to include the popular Cameron in this capacity, but in execution it feels more like Barry & Co. are campaigning to have Dave canonized than documenting his journey.
I couldn't help feeling Dave—probably a wonderful man in real life—was kind of a jerk. He's all into this noble quest to "inspire people one last time." But is it really about serving "the people" or himself? He whines, ignores his family, makes everything about himself. Maybe the goal was to build to some kind of epiphany and change of heart, but a half-hearted moment where Dave "sees the light" is not effective.
There's also a continuity misfire at one point when Dave agrees to run alongside a fellow racer, a Russian unbeliever named Sergei (Chris Ashworth). But the next time we see Dave he's as alone as ever, leaving us to wonder if he ditched his new acquaintance. Later they're shown running together with no updated explanation. Their budding friendship is stilted at the best of times; neither actor seemed able to relax into their roles.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
There's the obvious tie-in to "running the race set before you" even when it gets tough. Extraordinary also offers encouragement for couples whose marriages are going through a rough patch to honor their commitment to each other and the Lord. Maybe watching this story, with its view from both sides, will help couples better understand each other.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: NR (as of screening in July, 2017)
- Language/Profanity: None noted.
- Sexuality/Nudity: Some mild displays of affection between husband and wife.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: A character falls and briefly appears to be in distress; some blood and scrapes but nothing too disturbing.
Drugs/Alcohol: It's possible a group of women was drinking wine but their choice of beverage was not a focal point.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Runners, couples looking for a wholesome night out, and fans of straightforward Christian message movies.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Viewers who prefer their movies packed with action, drama and/or suspense plus subtle themes rather than message-heavy dialogue. (Note: Extraordinary is a "by Christians for Christians" movie. There's nothing wrong with that; people of faith need uplifting entertainment. But if you were hoping Extraordinary would be a terrific tool for evangelism, no. While God is more than able to use anything to accomplish His purposes, the heavily churchified language here is likely to be a turn-off for those not already in the fold).
Extraordinary, directed by Scotty Curlee, opened in theaters for a one-night-only Fathom Event September 7, 2017; available for home viewing December 19, 2017. It runs approximately 100 minutes and stars Leland Klassen, Shari Rigby, Chris Ashworth, Karen Abercrombie and Kirk Cameron. Watch the trailer for Extraordinary here.
Susan Ellingburg spends most days helping to create amazing live events and most nights at the movies, at rehearsals, or performing with vocal ensembles in the Dallas area. This leaves very little time for cleaning house. A natural-born Texan, Susan loves all things British, Sunday afternoon naps, cozy mysteries, traveling with friends, and cooking like a Food Network star (minus the camera crew).
Publication date: September 5, 2017
Image courtesy: ©LibertyUniversity