Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) is an amateur boxer who is going nowhere fast. However, when he strikes up a relationship with a young woman in a Catholic church (Teresa Ruiz), he begins to redeem himself with his mother (Jacki Weaver) and his estranged father (Mel Gibson), culminating with his attempt at joining the priesthood.
Faith-based movies are a decidedly recent phenomenon. In the past, movies that dealt with religiosity and spirituality were able to grapple with themselves in such a way that they embraced the possibility that it's all a cod. Movies like 'The Last Temptation of Christ' or even 'The Mission' acknowledged that a good many people in the audience flat-out reject the notion of a higher power, but still had enough heft to them that they could make you question it. Moreover, the idea of making a story about embracing a religious institution like the Catholic Church at a time when there are decades upon decades of documented facts and evidence stating just how evil - yes, outright evil - they are is going to face an uphill battle in today's world.
Yet, 'Father Stu' is a movie about a pugilist-turned-priest so a fight is naturally on the cards. For all of the promise of this idea and the chance of a good knock over the idea of priesthood in the modern age, 'Father Stu' barely delivers a punch. It's a gentle graze of a glove if anything. Writer-director Rosalind Ross adapts the true-life story of Stuart Long, who opts for Catholicism and eventually the priesthood after his boxing career is cut short by injury and age. As much as Mark Wahlberg tries to force humour into the proceedings and keep a sense of levity by cursing fruitfully at every opportunity, it never really takes off. It's laboured by its story rather than lifted by it, with the supporting cast of Mel Gibson and Jacki Weaver trying to keep the rhythm going but never quite matching it. Weaver, for example, is repeating her performance from 'The Fighter' while Mel Gibson is growling his way to redemption as Wahlberg's on-screen estranged father.
'Father Stu' lacks any kind of depth. Sure, there are big emotions on show here and the story of Stu Long is one that lends itself to easy adaptation. Yet, as much as Wahlberg is trying his damnedest to make it happen and get you to a place of belief and religious feeling, 'Father Stu' ultimately winds up being insincere and hokey as a direct result. For a movie that's supposed to be about accepting your own faults and supplanting your ego before a higher power, 'Father Stu' is an out-and-out vanity project for Mark Wahlberg, and feels more in service to himself than to the Almighty. There is unquestionably a good story to be told here, but not by any of the people who set out to do it.