Revolutionary War drama 'Mask' aims high, but falls short

Updated 6/4/2015 6:40 AM

Mini-review: 'Beyond the Mask'

In its heart, Chad Burns' insanely ambitious, steampunked Revolutionary War drama "Beyond the Mask" wants to be an epic adventure in the "Wild, Wild West" camp.


But its limited effects budget, wit-challenged screenplay and soft casting choices create the aura of a cheaply mounted made-for-cable-TV drama clumsily overlaid with lessons in divine forgiveness and spiritual redemption.

Evil capitalists at the East India Company in England -- led by John Rhys-Davies' archvillainous CEO Charles Kemp -- rely on amoral agent William Reynolds (Andrew Cheney) to protect the firm's assets through murder, theft and other acts of wrongdoing.

When Reynolds announces he's retiring, Kemp has a bomb with a 10-second timer attached to his horse carriage. Kemp assumes that the explosion kills Reynolds, who becomes the public scapegoat for the company's malfeasance.

But Reynolds survives. He winds up in the colonies where he takes the identity of a deceased vicar on his way to a new position. Reynolds proves to be far better at assassinations than preaching, as evidenced by a pulpit scene that squanders its rich potential for comic relief.

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One of his congregants, the attractive Charlotte (Kara Killmer of "Chicago Fire"), kind of likes the guy, despite being the most inept clergyman in the colonies. Reynolds tries to blend in, until Kemp and his henchmen arrive in the New World for some old-fashioned payback.

This sets up several promising but blunted action set pieces, one in which Reynolds prevents the assassination of John Arden McClure's listless George Washington.

These culminate in a wild and crazy plot to use underground wiring and Benjamin Franklin's newfangled electricity (called "invisible" lightning, even though everyone can see it) to blow up the Continental Congress the minute it declares independence from Great Britain.

"How many people must die?" Charlotte asks a chortling Kemp.

"Enough," he replies, "so the desire for independence will be overwhelmed by the need for law and order!"


If anything, Burns, a University of Illinois grad directing his second Christian-themed drama, doesn't fully embrace the inherent outlandishness of this anachronistic adventure and simply go for tongue-in-cheek broke.

"Beyond the Mask" is further mitigated by a cast lacking in chemistry and urgency, especially Cheney, an affable fellow who trades pleasantry for charisma, and even though his character experiences a spiritual rebirth, he plays evil Reynolds and reborn Reynolds without a shard of difference.

"Beyond the Mask" opens at South Barrington 30 and the Warrenville Cantera Stadium 17. Rated PG. 105 minutes. ★

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