If Michael Bay woke up one day and said to himself, "I need to make a movie about religious persecution in 1920s Mexico," I imagine it would look something like this.
Which is to say it would be a loud, violent, overlong mess of a movie, reeking of melodrama and filled with beautiful actors.
That's "For Greater Glory" in a nutshell. Bay, the manchild behind "Transformers" and "Armageddon," had nothing to do with this film. But his insatiable appetite for excess must have been a blueprint for this Mexican production. While "For Greater Glory" was made without blockbuster money -- it was financed independently -- it walks and talks like a Hollywood product.
The faces are familiar: the cast includes Andy Garcia, Eva Longoria, Peter O'Toole and Catalina Sandino Moreno of "Maria Full of Grace." Most are Spanish-speaking actors, yet the film was shot entirely in English.
As a would-be war epic, it has bold aspirations, and the explosive special effects and rapid-fire editing to back them up. The movie dramatizes a sliver of tumultuous Mexican history called the Cristero War. In 1926, President Plutarco Calles' anti-clerical regime began violently suppressing Roman Catholics, even executing priests. This gave way to a ragtag group of revolutionaries calling themselves Cristeros.
In the film, priests become gun-toting freedom fighters led by a retired general (Garcia) who is also an atheist. "I may have issues with the church, but I believe in religious freedom," he says. The rebel leader's religious discovery is one of the many heavy-handed subplots.
Exacerbating the problem: Every new scene is ushered onto the screen with a full symphony of choral music. The film's over-the-top soundtrack comes courtesy of "Avatar" and "Titanic" composer James Horner, a guy who has never heard a crescendo he didn't like.
The director, Dean Wright, is a veteran visual-effects wiz who supervised the latter two "Lord of the Rings" films. His vision of insurgent warfare brings to mind the classic 1966 film "The Battle of Algiers," which pitted French occupiers against a Muslim rebellion. But where Gillo Pontecorvo's film was a masterpiece of taut filmmaking, Wright's style is all burning crosses and child torture.
The film's financiers, which include a Mexican real estate developer and the Knights of Columbus, have been quoted saying the church vs. state parable is a timely critique of President Obama's birth control mandate. At the same time, Garcia and other actors have told the press this isn't a propaganda film.
Politics aside, "For Greater Glory's" main issue is this: It's an overwrought action film that will bludgeon you into submission. Michael Bay would be proud.