CNS reviews of recent films on the basis of moral suitability

Photo Caption: Carey Mulligan and Tom Sturridge star in a scene from the movie “‘Far From the Madding Crowd.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents.

Rating: By Catholic News Service

The following movie reviews are supplied by Catholic News Service in conjunction with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Film and Broadcasting.

For full reviews of these films, as well as earlier releases, visit the CNS movie site here.

This list will be updated regularly.

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“Pitch Perfect 2” (Universal)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

The trials and tribulations of a college a cappella group continue in this sequel to the 2012 film, directed and co-produced by Elizabeth Banks, who also reprises her role of a snarky pageant official.
When the group is banned from national competition by virtue of a scandal by one of its singers (Rebel Wilson), its leaders (Anna Kendrick and Brittany Snow) seek redemption by going after the world title with the help of a new recruit (Hailee Steinfeld). That means facing off against a German ensemble led by a menacing dominatrix (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen).
The film works best when showcasing the catchy tunes and not the dialogue, which is shockingly tone deaf. The attempt at humor by belittling women, foreigners and even religion is out of tune with what should be as wholesome anthem for self-improvement and achievement. Implied nonmarital relationships, adult themes and innuendo, occasional crude language, and an obscene gesture.

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“Mad Max: Fury Road” (Warner Bros)

The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

A brutal assault on all the senses is the best way to describe this fourth film in a series, directed, co-produced, and co-written by George Miller.
In a bleak, post-apocalyptic future, a road warrior (Tom Hardy) joins forces with a hijacker (Charlize Theron) as they seek revenge on a tyrannical leader (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who controls two precious commodities, water and gasoline. Along for the ride are the leader’s concubines, one of whom (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) is carrying his child. The chase is on, with a crazed soldier (Nicholas Hoult) leading an armada in pursuit.
Impressive cinematography and choreographed action are small consolations for two hours of gratuitous combat in which men have no qualms about beating women to a pulp — and vice versa. Relentless bloody violence, several disturbing images, and brief nudity.

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“Hot Pursuit” (Warner Bros.)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Brittle comedy in which a high-strung police officer (Reese Witherspoon) is assigned to protect the volatile wife (Sofia Vergara) of a drug runner-turned-government-witness. But the gangster is gunned down in a plot involving corrupt cops (most prominently Michael Mosley and Matthew Del Negro), forcing the ill-suited pair to go on the run together.
Director Anne Fletcher puts the duo through their predictable road-movie paces with mediocre results. Fleeting violence and gore, brief partial nudity, a drug theme, a mildly irreverent joke, some earthy humor including a scene of feigned homosexuality, at least one use each of profanity and rough language, occasional crude and crass terms.

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“The D Train” (IFC)

The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Presumably intended as a droll comedy about the pursuit of fame and the vagaries of sexual experimentation, writers and co-directors Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul’s film amounts instead to a consistently cynical, intermittently depraved exercise in strained humor.
They use the occasion of a high school reunion to draw a hackneyed contrast between the seemingly dull lot of one of their main characters (Jack Black), the event’s organizer, and the indulgent lifestyle of the other (James Marsden), an actor whose quasi-celebrity makes him the evening’s main draw. Among those suffering the consequences of the amoral performer’s influence over his former classmate are the Everyman’s supportive wife (Kathryn Hahn) and 14-year-old son (Russell Posner).
Strong sexual content — including a semigraphic scene of marital lovemaking, off screen homosexual adultery, fleeting rear nudity and explicit references to aberrant acts — drug use, pervasive rough language.

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“Far from the Madding Crowd” (Fox)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel about romantic entanglements in the English countryside returns to the big screen in this fourth film adaptation, directed by Thomas Vinterberg.
After unexpectedly inheriting a farm and a fortune, an independent-minded woman (Carey Mulligan) is determined to achieve success in a world run by men. She’s pursued by three suitors: a kindly shepherd (Matthias Schoenaerts), a lonely bachelor (Michael Sheen), and a caddish army sergeant (Tom Sturridge). A top-rank cast, lush cinematography, and high drama combine into a treat that’s suitable for teens as well as grownups, with a lesson in true love and commitment thrown in for good measure.
Brief violence, some sensuality, a single disturbing image.

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“Ex Machina” (Universal)

The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Crass misogyny overwhelms any thoughtful considerations on the rapid development of artificial intelligence that this sometimes witty tale of a mad scientist (Oscar Isaac), his assistant (Domhnall Gleeson) and his buxom, skimpily clad creation (Alicia Vikander) might have to offer. Writer-director Alex Garland apparently presumes that a big naked finale doesn’t count as gratuitous if all the women on display are robots.
Strong sexual content, including numerous images of full nudity, some knife violence, a few uses of profanity, much rough language.

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“Avengers: Age of Ultron” (Disney)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Occasional flashes of wit relieve the endless succession of explosive special effects in this so-so sequel.
When a supposedly peaceable tech project uber-engineer, Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), has been working on goes awry, the other members of the Avengers team — Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) — must battle to save humanity from the artificial-intelligence villain (voice of James Spader) their colleague has inadvertently created. This evil self-replicating robot is aided by superpower-wielding twins (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen) who nurse a long-standing grudge against the film’s ensemble of good guys.
In following up on his 2012 Marvel Comics-based adventure “The Avengers,” writer-director Joss Whedon keeps the mayhem stylized. But his script’s approach to its under-realized theme weighing human freedom against the blessings of tranquility is muddled. The proceedings are further dinged — and rendered inappropriate for youngsters — by a number of less-than-heroic exclamations and a couple of ill-considered jokes.
Pervasive but bloodless violence, brief irreverent and anti-Catholic humor, fleeting sexual banter, some crude and crass language.

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“Child 44” (Summit)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Author Tom Rob Smith’s novel about a serial killer stalking boys in the Stalinist-era Soviet Union — where, for ideological reasons, such crimes could not be officially acknowledged to exist — has the makings of an intriguing film. Unfortunately, director Daniel Espinosa and screenwriter Richard Price get bogged down in details, subplots and stereotyped apparatchiks as their protagonist (Tom Hardy), a state security officer attempting to investigate the murders, faces exile for his efforts.
He perseveres nonetheless, helped by a sympathetic general (Gary Oldman), but constantly harassed by a bureaucrat (Joel Kinnaman), who wants to keep the killings concealed.
Gun and physical violence, a fleeting scene of semi-graphic sexual activity, occasional profanity, rough language.

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“Marie’s Story” (Film Movement)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.

The life of Marie Heurtin (1885-1921), often called the “French Helen Keller,” is dramatized in this joyous film, directed by Jean-Pierre Ameris.
Born deaf and blind and wholly unable to connect to the world around her, by the age of 14, Marie (portrayed by deaf actress Ariana Rivoire) is a feral creature, prone to wild outbursts. With nowhere else to turn, her exasperated parents (Gilles Treton and Laure Duthilleul) bring Marie to a special-needs school run by an order of sisters where the girl makes a big impression on one idealistic nun (Isabelle Carre).
What ensues is a master class in unconditional love, patience and perseverance. Ameris brings a rare sensitivity and poignancy to his inspirational story; the profoundly life-affirming results are not to be missed. In French. Subtitles. Some potentially disturbing scenes of a frightened child. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.

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“The Age of Adaline” (Lionsgate)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Serviceable romantic drama in which, due to the unique circumstances of an auto accident that caused her temporary death, a 29-year-old widow (Blake Lively) in 1930s San Francisco emerges from the trauma immune to aging.
She spends the next eight decades on the run from prying authorities and from the kind of relationships her perpetual youth would make awkwardly unbalanced before reluctantly letting herself fall for a wealthy Silicon Valley tech whiz (Michiel Huisman). Though this turn of events delights her now-elderly daughter (Ellen Burstyn), complications from her long past (involving Harrison Ford) threaten her contemporary chance for commitment-based happiness.
Glossy proceedings follow on a silly premise in director Lee Toland Krieger’s film, though Lively’s skillful portrayal of the heroine’s not-quite-resigned state of isolation quells some skepticism. While her character’s wildly improbable plight makes the script’s tacit acceptance of out-of-wedlock sexual behavior somewhat difficult to evaluate, the unpleasant undertones of a late plot development connecting Huisman’s character to Ford’s are unmistakable.
Bedroom scenes implying benignly viewed nonmarital and premarital relationships, graphic but bloodless crash sequences, at least one instance each of profanity and crude language.

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“Child 44” (Summit)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Author Tom Rob Smith’s novel about a serial killer stalking boys in the Stalinist-era Soviet Union — where, for ideological reasons, such crimes could not be officially acknowledged to exist — has the makings of an intriguing film. Unfortunately, director Daniel Espinosa and screenwriter Richard Price get bogged down in details, subplots and stereotyped apparatchiks as their protagonist (Tom Hardy), a state security officer attempting to investigate the murders, faces exile for his efforts.
He perseveres nonetheless, helped by a sympathetic general (Gary Oldman), but constantly harassed by a bureaucrat (Joel Kinnaman), who wants to keep the killings concealed.
Gun and physical violence, a fleeting scene of semi-graphic sexual activity, occasional profanity, rough language.

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“Little Boy” (Open Road)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Under the guidance of his kindly parish priest (Tom Wilkinson), an undersized lad (Jakob Salvati) living with his mother (Emily Watson) and older brother (David Henrie) in 1940s coastal California tries to prove his faith in God by carrying out a series of good works.
His goal is to win the release of his beloved father (Michael Rapaport), a GI taken prisoner by the Japanese. But, along with the more familiar tasks of feeding the hungry and visiting the sick, the clergyman also requires the boy cleanse his mind of hatred by befriending a Japanese-American widower (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) who has been ostracized by the local community.
Religious values and a gentle sensibility pervade director Alejandro Monteverde’s nostalgic parable which is suitable for a wide audience. Even those who appreciate the film’s lessons in devotion and good will, though, may note its occasional lapses into forced plotting and sentimentality. Scenes of combat with minimal gore, a couple of crass terms.

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“Unfriended” (Universal)

The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

A teenagers-in-trouble horror film with a cybertwist, director Levan Gabriadze’s silly thriller unfolds in “found footage” style as six high school friends (Shelley Hennig, Renee Olstead, Courtney Halverson, Jacob Wysocki, Will Peltz and Moses Jacob Storm) converse in a video chat room. The sextet of pals is bound by a dark secret: they mercilessly bullied a fellow student (Heather Sossaman) who subsequently committed suicide.
When their victim apparently joins the conversation a year after her death, mayhem ensues, and the teens learn the hard way that actions have consequences. Lost amid all the slaughter is a potentially valuable message about the harmful effects of online harassment.
Gory violence and torture, underage alcohol and drug use, some sexual content, graphic scatological images, pervasive profane and crude language.

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“True Story” (Fox)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

The grisly undertones of this whodunit — a detailed dissection of a real-life murder case adapted by director and co-writer Rupert Goold from the memoir by Michael Finkel — make it suitable for mature viewers only. Yet, for those able to endure its seamier aspects, the film provides a cautionary tale about narcissism and the perils of seeking fame and fortune through the misdeeds of others.
In 2002 Mexico, American fugitive Christian Longo (James Franco) is arrested for the murder of his wife and three small children. When found, Longo is inexplicably impersonating Finkel (Jonah Hill), a recently dismissed reporter for the New York Times. Suspecting there’s a juicy story in Longo’s deception, Finkel arranges a meeting with the prisoner. What ensues, to the growing alarm of Finkel’s wife (Felicity Jones), is an unexpected rapport and mutual manipulation.
Disturbing images of death, some profane and crude language.

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“Monkey Kingdom” (Disneynature)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G — general audiences. All ages admitted.

This enjoyable documentary records the exploits of Maya, a female toque macaque monkey living amid the ruins of an abandoned city in Sri Lanka. Disadvantaged by her low rank within the rigid hierarchy of her species, Maya struggles for her own survival and for the welfare of her son Kip. When her troupe is displaced from their bountiful home territory by the aggression of a rival tribe, however, opportunities arise as the prevailing social structure is suddenly thrown into flux.
Dramatic scenery, together with pleasant narration by Tina Fey, helps to compensate for the low-speed pace of co-directors Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill’s study. The occasional intrusion of Darwinian conflict, though it exacts only a single fatality, might be unsettling for the very smallest viewers. But this is otherwise a completely comfortable option for parents.

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“Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” (Sony)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested.

Kevin James, who co-wrote the screenplay, returns as the awkward, earnest, perpetually suspicious security guard first seen in the 2009 original. Under the direction of Andy Fickman, this leaden sequel’s humor is supposed to derive from sight gags and from the title character’s frequent intonation of inspirational mantras. But these stout bromides only serve to make the otherwise unobjectionable comedy’s thin plot and deliberate artlessness more glaring.
Frequent slapstick violence and mishaps.

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“Woman in Gold” (Weinstein)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

A true story involving artwork stolen by the Nazis during World War II provides the basis for this intriguing dramatization, directed by Simon Curtis. The lady of the title is, in fact, the 1907 masterpiece “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918).
Decades after it and a trio of Klimt’s other paintings were confiscated from its Jewish subject’s relatives in Vienna, her now-elderly niece, Maria (Helen Mirren), is determined that right should prevail and the purloined items be returned. Maria enlists a California attorney (Ryan Reynolds) to make her case and also gains the backing of a nosy investigative reporter (Daniel Bruhl).
A valuable history lesson about wartime atrocities, man’s inhumanity to man, and the nature of justice, the film can be recommended for mature teens. Scenes of wartime violence, a few instances each of profane and crude language.

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“Danny Collins” (Bleecker Street)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Al Pacino plays the aging rock star of the title in writer-director Dan Fogelman’s flat, vaguely fact-based blend of comedy and drama.
Bereft at his failure to live up to the model of a true artist, a dereliction highlighted by the belated arrival of a 40-year-old letter to him penned by ex-Beatle John Lennon, the boozing, cocaine-sniffing singer dumps his cheating girlfriend (Katarina Cas), and sets out on a time-honored Hollywood-style odyssey of self-discovery and redemption. As he finds an age-appropriate companion (Annette Bening) who doubles as his moral compass, he also reconnects with his estranged adult son (Bobby Cannavale).
Fogelman’s script has nothing new to say about the corrosive effects of fame and vast wealth, while its saccharine dialogue will likely set viewers’ teeth on edge. Brief upper female nudity, a scene of drug use, a few instances of profanity, fleeting crude and crass language.

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“The Longest Ride” (Fox)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Sentimental soap opera intertwining the story of a contemporary college student (Britt Robertson) and her professional bull rider boyfriend (Scott Eastwood) with the romantic history, seen in flashbacks, of a Jewish refugee (Oona Chaplin) from Nazi-occupied Vienna and the local lad (Jack Huston) for whom she falls in 1940s Greensboro, North Carolina.
Director George Tillman Jr.’s adaptation of Catholic author Nicholas Sparks’ novel feels thoroughly contrived, not least because the World War II-era part of the saga is narrated by the elderly version of its male protagonist (Alan Alda) via old letters addressed to his true love who, unlike the audience, would presumably not have needed his elaborate written explanations to understand events she herself had just experienced.
Though touches of humor keep things moving along, late plot developments can be seen as either undercutting or supporting marital fidelity. Brief combat violence with mild gore, a few scenes of semi-graphic premarital sexual activity, partial nudity, a couple of instances of profanity, a smattering of crude language.

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“Furious 7” (Universal)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

True to form, exotic settings, stale dictums and always-murky moral values characterize this extension of the “Fast and Furious” series. Led by putatively Catholic paterfamilias Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Jordana Brewster, and Tyrese Gibson set out to avenge the murder of their colleague Sung Kang.
Director James Wan and screenwriter Chris Morgan dispense with the subplots explaining how the crew of underground car racers this ensemble portrays was reassembled. Instead, they provide scenes of the happy family lives some — Walker especially — must leave behind to fight the forces of evil.
A vengeance theme, nearly nonstop gun and physical violence, a few uses of profanity, fleeting crude and crass language.

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“Get Hard” (Warner Bros.)

The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Framed for embezzlement and sentenced to 10 years’ hard time at San Quentin, a financially successful but socially clueless executive (Will Ferrell) offers to pay the manager (Kevin Hart) of his car-washing service to train him in the survival skills he’ll need on the inside — wrongly assuming that, simply because the small-time businessman is black, he must have spent time behind bars.
Director Etan Cohen’s shoddy comedy tries to turn the tycoon’s fear of being raped into a laughing matter, and fails in its aspirations to comment on contemporary economic and racial divides.
Strong sexual content — including full nudity and the preliminaries of a perverse act — a frivolous treatment of homosexuality and rape, a couple of uses of profanity, pervasive rough and crude language.

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“It Follows” (Radius-TWC)

The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Infected with a sexually transmitted curse, a Detroit teen (Jake Weary) uses a casual encounter to rid himself of the hex by passing it on to the girl he’s been dating (Maika Monroe). The spell causes its victims to be pursued by a murderous ghost who takes on a variety of personas.
Writer-director David Robert Mitchell’s exploitative film — which feels more like the discomfiting remake of an ancient stag reel than a frightening homage to horrors past — is sloppy in execution and ambiguous in story line. Considerable violence, some of it bloody, strong sexual content — including full male and female nudity, a couple of scenes of semi-graphic nonmarital sexual activity, implications of incest and references to pornography — fleeting crude and crass language.

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“Home” (Fox)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

Lightweight animated adventure in which a cuddly alien (voice of Jim Parsons) joins his conformist kind in a peaceful invasion of Earth during which they exile the planet’s human inhabitants to Australia, commandeering the remainder of the orb for themselves. But when the extraterrestrial makes a mistake that endangers his fellow newcomers (their leader voiced by Steve Martin), he goes on the run and joins forces with a preteen girl (voice of Rihanna) who managed to evade compulsory relocation.
As the visitor works to forestall the potentially disastrous consequences of his misstep and his wary companion tries to reunite with her displaced mom (voice of Jennifer Lopez), director Tim Johnson’s screen version of Adam Rex’s novel “The True Meaning of Smekday” charts the ups-and-downs of their friendship while extolling individuality, sociability and courageous risk-taking. The space travelers’ fractured version of English provokes a few smiles, but the picture is otherwise merely passable.
Occasional scenes of peril and a bit of mild bathroom humor.

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“Do You Believe?” (Pure Flix)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Storytelling takes a back seat to sermonizing in this competent ensemble drama that turns on a Chicago pastor’s (Ted McGinley) preaching about the centrality of the Cross in the lives of Christians and the need to put faith into practice.
He and his wife (Tracy Melchior) do so by taking in a pregnant teen (Madison Pettis) who has been living on the streets; similarly, an older couple (Lee Majors and Cybill Shepherd) provide shelter for a homeless mom (Mira Sorvino) and her irrepressibly sunny daughter (Makenzie Moss) while two despondent near-suicides (Joseph Julian Soria and Alexa PenaVega) find hope-restoring romance together.
Less comfortable plot lines involve an emergency medic’s (Liam Matthews) fraught legal battle to vindicate his right to proselytize patients and the credibility-straining fate of an ex-con-turned-church-janitor (Brian Bosworth) afflicted with terminal cancer.
Working from a script by Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon, director Jonathan M. Gunn turns out a film better calculated to reinforce evangelical believers in the creed and values to which they already adhere than to invite the inquisitive or convert the doubtful. Some action violence and mature references, including to abortion.

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“The Divergent Series: Insurgent” (Summit)

The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Teenagers are still on the run — when they’re not too busy killing one other — in this follow-up to the 2014 kick-off of the futuristic franchise. Based on the second book of the trilogy by Veronica Roth, director Robert Schwentke’s thriller — set, like its predecessor, in a post-apocalyptic version of Chicago — finds the two renegades (Shailene Woodley and Theo James) at the center of the previous go-round once again battling the leader (Kate Winslet) of a corrupt government that divides the population under its control into personality-based factions, and hunts down those not so easily categorized.
A considerable increase in violence and moral ambiguity places this sequel squarely outside the proper reach of younger adolescents. Intense violence, including scenes of torture, nongraphic nonmarital sexual activity, some crude language.

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