‘Captive’
Director:
Jerry Jameson
Stars: Kate Mara, David Oyelowo
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

Some religious movies, especially recent ones like “The War Room” and “90 Minutes in Heaven,” wear their religiosity on their sleeve. Others, like “Captive,” are more stealth, even sneaky, even misleading. It has real actors giving strong performances. It has a budget and, for the most part, technical competence. And it couches its propaganda about embracing the Lord inside a tense hostage thriller. Based on a real-life near-tragedy, it stars Kate Mara as Ashley Smith, who in 2005 was a tetchy meth head struggling to swap her habit for the young daughter taken away from her. On the eve of her kid’s return, Ashley is taken by Brian Nichols (David Oyelowo), a man on trial for a rape case who has escaped, but not after gunning down the judge and others.

We believe Brian may hurt Ashley but also that he is truly anguished, because he is played by no less than David Oyelowo, whose sad eyes are plonked onto a face that can turn into pure steel. And we believe Ashley is struggling mightily with her addiction, because she is played by no less than Kate Mara. Early in the film, before the fireworks start, Ashley sits in an N.A. meeting, and Mara believably conveys someone who wants to stop what she does but can’t because she loves it too much. She says that with the joyless dirge of someone who no longer likes what she likes, and without a trace of the hamminess that plagues usual screen portrayals of drug abuse. 

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Together Oyelowo and Mara should transcend the bluntness of the movie around them. But the writing is too on-the-nose, often amateurish and too like too many Podunk Christian productions, where spiritual intent trumps quality or even taste. For awhile director Jerry Jameson and his two actors are able to milk it as a straight-ahead what-happens-next nail-biter. Holed up in her newly tidied up apartment, Ashley tensely plays ball with David’s every demand, struggling to not only stay alive but keep this picture palatable for a wider and secular audience. 

But eventually David must chill, right around the time Ashley whips out her newly gifted copy of “The Purpose-Driven Life,” the spiritual mega-bestseller by noted pro-Prop. 8 advocate Rick Warren (who makes an appearance in the Oprah episode coda). The credibility-straining, salvation-heavy climax is true, or at least movie version close to it, but it also strips the actors of anything to do but unsubtly sell us on the magically redemptive power of faith. 

It might even make us realize that Oyelowo and Mara didn’t always have it so good after all — that the former, for instance, had to partake in a ridiculous (and again, close to accurate) escape set piece. Then again, neither ever have it as bad as Michael K. Williams, playing a loose cannon cop right out of an episode of “C.H.i.P.S.”, stuck fumbling to milk gravitas out of lines like “We HAVE to get this guy back into custody” and at one point taking his frustrations out on a vending machine. (Later we’re treated to Oyelowo vs. a TV.) Technically Oyelowo only has himself to blame; he’s one of six producers, and its stranger-than-bad-fiction tale obviously touches on his own faith. But they can only overcome noble intentions for so long.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge