Reviewed by: Mary Naber
Freelance Writer / Former Columnist to a Money, Sports, and Entertainment. Used with permission.
|Featuring:||Sean McEwen, Nathan Bell, Jacob Head, Dwight Cenac, Lisa Cash, Francesca Card, Michael Gier|
|Producer:||D. Gunther Tarampi|
“Illegal street racing fuels cutting-edge evangelical film”
As illegal street racing continues to rise in popularity during the early 21st century, a theatrical film chronicling its electrifying engines, fiery competition, and impending danger has emerged with a powerful firing of the pistons. ChristianCinema.com’s most recent release “Lay It Down”, combines this heart-pounding energy with a heart-moving story about brotherhood, relationships, and humankind’s shared search to “be alive like you’ve never been alive before.”
Ben Destin (Sean McEwen) leads off the story, as the fastest cat on wheels in town, whose near-death experience on the road forces him out of his imagined sense of immortality. After confessing his fears of death to Pastor Gus (Michael Gier)--who visits Ben’s home with romantic interests for his widowed mother—Ben breaks down into tears and cries out to God for the forgiveness and eternal life offered in Jesus Christ.
While Ben’s “conversion” occurs in the first five minutes—an unexpected choice for evangelistic films that often place this “climax” at the finale—the true story unfolds to present the difficult choices and challenges Ben faces as a new follower of Christ.
With unwavering faith, Ben willingly trades his popularity, his passion for fast racing, and his promiscuous relationship with his girlfriend Anita (Lisa Cash). His struggles, uncertainties, and joys will surely resonate with the targeted youth/teen crowd, who share the same search for something to believe in, something to live for, something to die for…
A high proportion of the audience will also likely identify with Ben’s younger brother Pete Destin (played by the very attractive Nathan Bell), who doesn’t understand this new faith. In fact, Pete experiences great embarrassment when Ben begins preaching to the crowd. Pete also feels great frustration at Ben’s decision to abandon street racing all together. This grinding duel and ultimate sacrifice between the brothers—grounded in their mutual love for one another—provides one of the most compelling conflicts in the film’s smoky mist.
Living for an Eternal God does not promise Ben a rose garden. Nor does God protect Ben from the thorn pricks of wrong choices.
Hence, an exciting climax of the film builds up around one final moment. The undefeated Ben Destin agrees to one final street race against the new cool cat Nicky “D” (Jacob Head), in exchange for a few minutes of everyone’s undivided attention following the race, in which he intends to share the Gospel message. Pete is delighted. But is this the right compromise? Ben had said he would never race again—will he actually go through with it? And what will happen?
The reality of such choices, and their consequences, drives this captivating film. Cut in quick, MTV style, an intense stream of high-impact music raises the sustained suspense. Bright yellow and red stripes riding the metal ridges of the racing cars shine in the haze of headlights blazing through smoke. The deafening motors advance as a hundred thunderstorms booming overhead. The artistic quality of “Lay It Down” also proves quite superb, with an incredible break-through performance by Laird Pulver in Production Design.
Few films are without their faults. Pastor Gus’s performance is a little less than convincing at times, perhaps because he carries most of the lines that appear over-contrived. Ben’s quick conversion at the beginning of the film lacks pathos—a developed concern for his character. But these shortcomings can be overlooked as the more explosive moments of the film take over.
With artistic foreshadowing, “Lay It Down” successfully executes a surprise ending—revealing a reality that is presented, but not fully comprehended, at the beginning. Furthermore, the film generously handles multiple themes: brotherhood, family struggles, popularity, suspicion of faith, romantic relationship, unfaithfulness, teen sex and consequences, illegal activity and consequences, but most of all—forgiveness. We discover this gift in Christ, and not the fast road, as the place where true life can be found.
Note: Universal Pictures also foresaw the market potential in illegal street racing, grossing $40.1 million on the opening weekend of “The Fast and the Furious.” Yet while Universal’s film presents a wide road to disaster, “Lay it Down” offers a very enticing path to life eternal.