The Revolutionary War had Paul Revere sounding the alarm about the British, and the War on Christmas has Bob Revere (Marshall Teague) sounding the alarm about secular humanism. No, he doesn’t ride an actual horse in “Last Ounce of Courage” (although he does ride a chopper with a big American flag flying in back). Instead he gets on his high horse in this drama, all exercised over the absence of Christmas decorations from public property in his town, Mount Columbus. How bad are things? Instead of a Christmas pageant, the local high school has “a winter space odyssey” (presided over by a rather swishy drama coach).
“It’s not just about Christmas anymore,” Bob laments. “Have you ever noticed that the mere mention of ‘Jesus’ nowadays seems to rub people the wrong way? Well, I’m very tired of not standing up for what I believe in.” With his head of silvery hair and ship’s-prow chin, Bob looks the part of a believer in standing up. He also looks like Jay Leno’s snarly cousin.
“Last Ounce of Courage” is the latest in a sub-subgenre of movies expressly aimed at conservative viewers. Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary “2016: Obama’s America” is the highest-profile example. Last year’s “October Baby,” about abortion, is another. Such movies aren’t about making art, they’re about making a statement — which, as “2016” has shown, can also mean making a sizable profit. In fairness to these films, it’s not as if many Hollywood movies are about making art, either (their pretensions notwithstanding).
“Last Ounce of Courage” has decent production values — everything is lit with the bright cheeriness of TV advertising (it’s like a commercial for commercials) — and the movie even has a once-upon-a-time star, Jennifer O’Neill, as Bob’s supportive wife, Dottie. Actually, it has another former big name, though the casting is a lot less traditional. Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, who was sort of the Herman Cain of blaxploitation films, shows up as Warren “The Hammer” Hammerschmidt, the head of an organization that’s the American Civil Liberties Union in anything but name. When he shows up in Mount Columbus, he and Bob do not exactly see eye to eye.
Before things come to that pass, a lot happens. Bob was a war hero (doing the math, it has to be Vietnam, but the movie doesn’t say). His son, Tom, enlists in the Army and sees serious combat. “I told him to defend our freedoms with his last ounce of courage,” Bob recalls. Hence the movie’s title. Before enlisting, Tom marries, and while he’s overseas his wife has a baby boy. Fourteen years later, wife and son move in with Bob and Dottie. This is odd, since the movie seems to be set in the present and the United States wasn’t at war 14 years ago. No less odd, it seems that in all this time Bob and Dottie haven’t seen their grandson (who’s named Christian).
It’s Christian’s enrolling in the local high school that precipitates the crisis. He gets in trouble for bringing a pocket Bible to school. This upsets Bob, understandably enough; and since it’s Christmastime he decides to take back the (holy) night. He’s the mayor, so he’s in a position to do more than just bluster. You can figure out the rest. “Red Dawn” for reindeer? Something like that, with a transistor-radio-assisted miracle thrown in for good measure.
The problem with this numbskull travesty isn’t that it’s fatuous and smug (which it is). It’s that it’s slack and dull. The storytelling is inept (that weird 14-year hiatus, for example), and any time Fred Williamson gives the most assured performance in a movie, that movie is in serious trouble. Worse than that, it trivializes the very issues it’s supposedly promoting. The Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest decoration this nation has to bestow on its military, gets casually tossed in as a minor plot device, and Bob’s idea of Christmas has about as much to do with the miracle of Jesus’s birth as his ideas about citizenship have to do with the Constitution. Christmas, he says, is “a holiday that most of our citizens enjoy but a minority of soreheads don’t.” Protecting the rights of soreheads, who come in all shapes, sizes, and percentages, is a proposition the Founders were rather fond of. You’d think Bob would be doubly aware of that, being the exponent that he is of both patriotism and soreheadedness.