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Old Fashioned is a faith-based movie that apparently means to position itself as a corrective to the bacchanal raging two doors down in the cineplex. It means to be the anti-Fifty Shades of Grey and, if Fifty Shades of Grey turns out to be a miracle of nuanced and thoughtful cinema, it will have achieved its goal.

Now that's mean, and regular readers probably understand that we aren't usually mean to the little faith-based movies that occasionally pop up like dandelions among the snarling thorns of Hollywood hegemony. In general, we're for people making movies with strong points of view, and we tend to give credit to any film that actually makes itself available to audiences. But so narrow and artless is this little scold that we have to say it: Old Fashioned isn't a very good display of storytelling or of moviemaking, and the auteur behind it -- writer-director-producer-star Rik Swartzwelder -- would have been better served had he farmed out three of those roles. He sins as a writer and director, and while he's adequate as an actor, his determination to star in the film (not to mention the way he bathes his visage in glowing candle light) smacks of hubris.

Old Fashioned

71 Cast: Rik Swartzwelder, Elizabeth Ann Roberts, Tyler Hollinger, LeJon Woods, Nini Hadjis

Director: Rik Swartzwelder

Rating: PG-13, for some thematic material

Running time: 115 minutes

Give him credit as a producer though. Old Fashioned is definitely in theaters now. He got the film released. He's in the arena. Good for him.

And some audiences will no doubt cheer his vision, for there are plenty of people abashed by the way movies typically portray the ways human beings court affection (as well as the ways human beings actually court affection). For his part, Swartzwelder believes in old-fashioned courtship, something a little less whimsical than the "letters and sodas" courtship rites Liz Phair once alluded to in a song with a title no family newspaper would dare to print. Again, good for him. We don't object to that. We just object to the artlessness with which he makes his case.

Set in small-town Ohio, Old Fashioned is the story of Clay (Swartzwelder), a mop-headed antiques dealer and reformed frat boy who used to be involved in some sort of sketchy Girls Gone Wild project but has now settled down as a born-again prude, a monkish ascetic whom nobody in town seems to like all that much. His college buddy Brad (Tyler Hollinger) is an unrepentant frat-boy radio host with some disturbing misogynistic tendencies who exists to serve as Clay's foil. And David (LeJon Woods) is Clay's basketball-loving black friend, a sweet soul with a blandly holy wife (Nini Hadjis).

When perky divorcee Amber (Elizabeth Ann Roberts), fleeing her abusive past, runs out of gas in town, she does the logical thing and leases the apartment above Clay's antique store. Naturally they don't get along when they first meet, although she sees something in Clay that eludes everyone else. Soon they're having heart-to-hearts through a symbolic screen door, a kind of bundling board that ham-handedly signals Clay's principled no-intimacy-before-marriage stance. (Clay will not even allow himself to be alone in a room with a woman before marriage -- when he performs some maintenance work on his new tenant's kitchen, he makes her stand outside in the cold.)

Anyway, there's a kind of sweet -- if risibly stilted -- romance embedded in this sour and self-aggrandizing film, and it might have worked as a kind of saccharine Valentine had there been any chemistry between the two leads. Even if you agree with Clay's rigid moral stance, you'll probably be put off by this remarkably dull, tone-deaf argument for chastity.

MovieStyle on 02/13/2015

Print Headline: Old Fashioned

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