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The Genius Club (2006)

[The Genius Club] The Genius Club
River Rain Productions, 2006
Rated: PG in the U.S.A., 15 in the U.K.
Running Time: 119 minutes
Director: Tim Chey
Producers: Arch Bonnema, Dashi Takishi
Amazon.com: NTSC DVD
Suggested by: Greg Slade

The premise of the story is that seven people with IQs over 200 are recruited by the U.S. government to match wits with a mad genius who threatens to detonate a nuclear bomb under Washington, DC, unless they can solve all the worst problems facing the world – by six o'clock the next morning Or, they can disarm the bomb if they can guess the password: three words which hold the key to solving all these problems.

I have to say that, when I was looking at the cover of the DVD, I was more than a little intrigued: it's been a long time since I have been impressed by the intellect of a politician, military officer, or business tycoon, so so why not let the real brains try tackling these problems for a change? Surely, they could do no worse. Then, too, the cast was promising: as a huge fan of Battlestar Galactica, I've been very impressed with Tricia Helfer's acting ability, if not particularly enamoured with the characters she plays. Names like Tom Sizemore, Jack Scalia, and Stephen Baldwin get my attention, too. So, I slapped down my money, and took the DVD home. But, to be honest, I wasn't all that hopeful. It's quite rare for a Christian film to impress me.

First, the expected: the budget was rock bottom, and it shows. The President of the United States is one of the central characters, and should be surrounded by a horde of Secret Service agents just itching to kill something because the situation won't allow them to whisk him to safety, as every nerve cell in their bodies would be screaming for them to do. A top FBI agent assigned to the case rides around town on a motorcycle, instead of in a sedan that screams "establishment." In essence, all the little extras that would be necessary to convince the audience that these people really would choose to stay in a room and be ranted at by a madman all night, instead of heading for the hills, were just not in the budget.

But the budget isn't to blame for everything. Continuity suffers somewhat. At one point, it appears as if the FBI has chosen the geniuses, but at another, the mad genius claims that he selected them. And, as almost always seems to be the case with movies, there are logical holes in the plot. More than once, it is stated that this all-night session takes place on Christmas Eve, but in the few outside shots, there is never a flake of snow in sight (as you would expect from a film shot in Los Angeles), still less any Christmas decorations, frenzied crowds of shoppers, or jingle bells, and the TV screens are strangely free of grinches, reindeer, snowmen, or George Bailey. In short, nothing whatsoever is made of the timing of the event. To make things worse, the FBI agent casually removes the core of the supposedly impregnable bomb, confirms – by the naked eye – that it is made of Uranium 235 (in other words, it's a real nuke), and then puts it back in the bomb.

Next, the unexpected: the acting was surprisingly good. You don't generally expect good performances in a Christian film, even if the filmmakers manage to hire "name" actors. In this case, you'd be wrong. Tom Sizemore delivers a delightfully demented mad genius, Stephen Baldwin is equally fun as the genius who practically dares people to underestimate him, Jack Scalia delivers a couple of scenes which neatly portray the kind of self-deception which seems to be a job requirement for a career politician, and Tricia Helfer, though somewhat underused, delivers a tear-jerking monologue near the end of the film.

In the end, though, what cripples the film is the script. Despite being presented as the cream of the intellectual crop, not a single character is ever given a line which lifts the argument above the same tired clichés we've seen rehashed countless times. I lost track of the number of times that I waited with bated breath for one of these geniuses to provide a single compelling insight which could genuinely shed new light instead of more heat. (I could have provided a few of those lines myself.) But instead, each time, the "final word" on each subject is some trite little sermonette on the evils of The Powers That Be. A couple of times, Scalia's president is handed the opportunity to rise above politics to leadership, but he's never allowed to reach for it. A couple of critics have complained that the film is boring because "it's just a bunch of smart people sitting around a table talking." But the real problem is that the characters aren't allowed to be as smart as they're supposed to be, so the audience never gets to experience the thrill of watching truly first-class minds match wits.

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