Religious themes work best in ‘For Greater Glory’

“For Greater Glory” may be based on a historical period, with characters based in fact and a general faithfulness to the true subject.

But within this framework, someone has gone back to some very old-fashioned kinds of movie plots, and “For Greater Glory” exhibits a curious blend of cornpone and calculation.

For a while, this is not a bad thing. Aside from the usual hurried exposition as it gets under way, “For Greater Glory” lays out a collection of heroes and villains swept up in the Cristeros War of the late 1920s in Mexico. (Incidentally, the dialogue is in English, despite the setting.)

In the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution, Mexican President Plutarco Calles (an extremely sly, lived-in performance by Ruben Blades) decrees that religion would be restricted in a variety of ways in the heavily Catholic country. What results, in the film’s account, is an uprising against government forces by a devoted band of religious insurgents.

Among the timeworn characters in this scenario: a retired general (Andy Garcia), not noticeably religious himself, who is pulled into leading the scruffy, disconnected insurgent army; a dashing commando (Oscar Isaacs, from “Drive”) who learns to temper his reckless bravado with a newfound team spirit; and a little boy (Mauricio Kuri) who joins the insurgency after witnessing the murder of a priest (Peter O’Toole).

Some reasonably absorbing battle scenes commence, and a bit of soul-searching about the lengths people must go to support a cause.

The prickly relationship between Mexico and the United States is also introduced, as an ambassador (Bruce Greenwood) visits to negotiate America’s oil interests alongside human-rights concerns.

As for Eva Longoria, second-billed in the cast, don’t expect much; she plays Garcia’s faithful wife, and is relegated to the role wives frequently play in movie epics. In other words, sitting on the sidelines and providing encouragement to her husband when he goes off to battle.

“For Greater Glory” is directed by a visual-effects specialist, Dean Wright, and the movie looks all right, if not always powered by a compelling heartbeat.

Just as significant in its credits is a production company that specializes in faith-based projects, although that angle is not emphasized in ads for the movie.

This film will no doubt be shown in church halls for years to come. It’s better as a religious picture than an action epic, although it clearly wants to be both.

“For Greater Glory” (2 stars)

An account of the Cristeros War of the late 1920s in Mexico, when religious insurgents rose up against a government crackdown on Catholicism. Not bad for a while, but the drumbeat gets lost in all the information, despite the best efforts of actors such as Andy Garcia and Ruben Blades.

Rated: R for violence.

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Pacific Place.

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