By Bob Westal | January 19, 2002

“Ordinary Sinner” is not exactly “good” but – like a TV movie you want to switch off but can’t – it’s too involving to completely dismiss. Along with the meaty but overwrought melodrama and unbelievable, yet somehow compelling, plot twists, come greeting card-style photography and an irritating, sickly sweet score. It’s a little like eating a pretty decent burger that’s been slathered in Mrs. Butterworths.
Before I revolt you with any more culinary metaphors, here’s the story: After a murky, tragic episode, young Episcopalian priest-to-be Peter Thompson (Brendon P. Hines) has dropped out of the seminary and transferred to an idyllic Vermont college. While he still helps out his good friend and religious mentor, the macho, cliff-diving “Father Ed” (TV veteran A. Martinez), he spends most of his spare time repairing the shack he’s moving into and working part time at a pizza joint.
That changes when Peter’s lifelong buddy, Alex (Kris Park), introduces him to his other best friend, Rachel (Elizabeth Banks) – a comparative religions enthusiast who takes an instant shine to Peter and looks, really, really good in shorts and a bikini top. She takes direct action and, in no time, Peter’s seminarian virtue is history.
All this could be enough to set any college boy on a strictly secular path, but Peter’s harrowing past and lingering spiritual leanings keep getting in the way. Things start coming to a head when a local gay-bashing incident moves Father Ed to come out as a homosexual. The news strikes a chord, particularly with local religious conservatives-cum-extremists.
Now, at this point you might expect a standard social-issues drama in which horrified townspeople lobby to get rid of their now openly gay priest — or perhaps some sort of action-packed confrontation with violent homophobes. Instead, the story starts to focus more on relationships. Peter and his new girlfriend fall in love, while the elfin Alex seems to be trying a little too hard to redefine the traditional role of a third-wheel. We also learn a little bit more about Father Ed and his short-fused, pizza-parlor owning lover (Peter Onorati — another familiar TV face). But then events take a deadly turn. Peter’s crisis of faith turns to complete despair. And, suddenly, “Ordinary Sinner” becomes a murder mystery.
All these convolutions keep things moving, even if it’s impossible to buy any of it. At only 93 minutes, the film moves swiftly, but it never has the time to focus on the issues it’s trying so hard to raise. Of course, even if it did, there would still be that godawful music in the background.
Still, “Ordinary Sinners” is brimming with sincere intentions and a few interesting thoughts. It brings a rare sort of realism to the movie world, accurately depicting members of the mainline clergy as being just as foul-mouthed and h***y as the rest of us. Most important of all, it knows how to keep us watching — there’s even a trio of comedy-relief pizza deliverers who, believe it or not, are actually funny.

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