John Ratzenberger, the talented actor from Cheers and every Pixar film, does a yeoman’s job of trying to save the paint-by-numbers Christian film, WWJD II: The Woodcarver. His efforts are not totally wasted. The stand-alone-sequel is heartfelt, well-intentioned and brimming with positivity, but as an engaging movie, it features far too many cliches and “aww-shucks” moments.
Ratzenberger plays the title character (the woodcarver, not Jesus Christ), a cheerful man who follows the guidance of his savior. Ernest Otto is devout and content, but that doesn’t mean everything has worked out perfectly in his life. Both his son and wife have died, and he lives a somewhat lonely life in his beautiful cabin in the woods. He’s a traditional woodcarver, preferring to use his bare hands rather than the cheap pre-fabricated supplies most others use.
We first meet Ernest after one of his proudest projects is vandalized by a local teenager. The First Baptist Church in town, which features Ernest’s intricate craftsmanship, is no match for Matthew Stevenson (Dakota Daulby, in his screen debut). The errant youth breaks the stained-glass windows, spray paints “LIAR” in big red letters on the side of the church and destroys some of Ernest’s honest work. This gets him in trouble with his school, the local minister and his parents (Woody Jeffreys and Nicole Oliver). The reason for the outburst is because the boy’s parents are on the verge of a divorce.
Ernest, after assessing the situation, determines that this family needs to follow the edict: WWJD, or what would Jesus do? He takes Matthew under his wing and begins to rebuild the damaged church. He also offers advice to the hot-headed Mr. Stevenson and his soon-to-be-ex wife. Like Jesus himself, the woodcarver teaches them the power of forgiveness, prayer and respect. Ratzenberger gives as much advice as he did on Cheers, only there’s no glass of beer in front of him.
The movie, written by Joe Nasser, Kevan Otto and Thomas Makowski, means well, and it’s hard to fault a film that tries so strenuously to convey its message. The acting is mostly acceptable, especially from Ratzenberger. Daulby holds his own, although he shows his inexperience in some of the more dramatic scenes.
But even if everyone were on top of their game, the script doesn’t allow for much subtlety. Every few minutes, characters stop their natural trains of thought and begin semi-preaching about their values and connection to God. There’s nothing wrong with an effusive spirit over one’s faith, but when it materializes in manufactured sayings and phrases, everything feels like it’s trying too hard.
The Woodcarver will delight those audience members looking for an easy film that tells a family-approved Christian message. Like an after-school special from the 1980s, the movie lives and breathes its entire thesis for 91 minutes. For those foolish enough to expect anything less than a total commitment to Christian idealism, the movie will be a bore. It doesn’t hold up in the dramatic department, but that doesn’t mean the movie fails on all fronts. As far as its none-too-subtle subject matter: The message is heard loud and clear.
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
WWJD II: The Woodcarver
Directed by Thomas Makowski
Written by Joe Nasser, Kevan Otto and Makowski
Running time: 91 minutes