Sam Rockwell Plays a Religious Con Man in a Long-Winded Dirge Called ‘Don Verdean’

Sam Rockwell, left, with Jemaine Clement in Don Verdean.

Sam Rockwell, left, with Jemaine Clement in Don Verdean.

It’s positively astounding how many rock-bottom flops an appealing actor like Sam Rockwell manages to make to fill out his resume. Literally scores of his movies have either opened and closed in one weekend or never been released at all. I still get a migraine when I think of a witless, homicidal horror called Seven Psychopaths.


DON VERDEAN ★
(1/4 stars)

Written by: Jared Hess and Joshua Hess
Directed by:
Jared Hess
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Amy Ryan and Jemaine Clement
Running time: 90 min.


In a dirge called Don Verdean, he plays the Biblical archaeologist in the title role, a bogus con man who is the head of Bible Quest Enterprises in Utah. Between books like God’s Relics he teams up with a potential Arabian terrorist to locate artifacts like a hole in the ground purported to be the grave of Samson and preaches the need for younger generations led by Satanists and false prophets to find the light (and buy his Holy Land souvenirs). Upwardly mobile, he sees advancement in the “Get Famous” business when he’s recruited by a religious nut preacher (B-movie comic Danny McBride) married to a born-again hillbilly singer (Leslie Bibb) to finance an exhibition of holy treasures for a paying congregation. Don hits pay dirt when he insists he’s on the track of a pillar of salt with breasts that used to be Lot’s wife in order to prove the Old Testament is true.

His loyal assistant (Amy Ryan), the mother of a man serving 12 years in prison for growing eight tons of cannabis in a national park, believes in Don as a true visionary, following him to the Ark of the Covenant, which is being guarded by a monk in Ethiopia, then on a scuba expedition to the bottom of the Red Sea looking for the surviving armor from Pharaoh’s army.

Trouble ensues in a desert near Jerusalem where Don declares, “I will not return until I have Goliath’s head in my carry-on,” but the Israeli government denies him a digging permit in the Valley of Elah, so he robs the grave of a local freak who died in 1947 and passes it off as the slain giant’s skull. Written and directed by the filmmaking team Jared and Jerusha Hess (Napoleon Dynamite), it’s a funny, offbeat idea for a farce up to a point, but the joke wears thin too fast to sustain interest and the Hesses lack the originality and cleverness to juggle their balloons in the air in any fresh way. The end result, which manages to insult people of every faith, is no more substantial than a collection of mediocre skits on Saturday Night Live.

I was amused by Sam Rockwell’s ratty beard and redneck accent, but dozed off in the long-winded finale when Don tried to pawn off a stolen wine goblet from an American Indian reservation to a Chinese billionaire as the Holy Grail. A little of this corn goes a long way.

Sam Rockwell Plays a Religious Con Man in a Long-Winded Dirge Called ‘Don Verdean’