End of the Spear Directed by Jim Hanon
M Power, opens January 20
Coy crypto-Christian claptrap masquerading as feel-good ethnography, End of the Spear is part missionaries-in-peril potboiler (sans pot) and part Bush-era evangelical screed. It's the kind of oversweet cinematic Kool-Aid they used to force-feed us in Sunday school, a dramatic retooling of Beyond the Gates of Splendor, a documentary also directed by Jim Hanon that was marketed to churches. Both films tell the story of five American missionaries who were murdered by members of a remote Ecuadoran tribe while trying to establish contact with them in 1956, and of the subsequent conversion of said tribe to a less self-destructive lifestyle. Spear has all the earmarks of a middling Indiewood product, from its competent second-tier cast (including Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman hunklet Chad Allen in a dual role as a slain missionary and his grown son) to its earnest plotting and leaden pacing. (The many dubious factual embellishments are pure Hollywood.) But Spear is up to more than just grade-B jungle thrills, and its Davey and Goliath dogmatism comes through as loud and clear as the sinister subtext behind its message of nonviolencethat the world's nonwhite, "undeveloped" cultures continue to require prophylactic doses of Yank benevolence in order to survive and thrive.