As part of our recent Jam the Hype festival at Asuza Pacific University in May, we hosted a film festival and were honored to watch the No Malice movie from and segments of Unashamed World by director Art Hooker.  These films are highly relevant and speak directly to the culture today.  Outside of a couple of Tyler Perry movies and another 15 or so movies that I found, there are very few faith-based movies that target urban audiences.  So, when we received an invitation to view Restored Me by the director Rhyan Lamarr, I was very interested in seeing if it could add something to this newer category of movies. Would it be cheesy like God’s Not Dead?  Or, would it be gritty like No Malice?  The answer was, it was something completely different, refreshing, and surprisingly thought-provoking.

The main character of the movie is Julio, played by Giovanni Watson, and he’s a star basketball player on a high school team whose life takes a very different turn.  He, and the police, are surprised to find cocaine in his gym bag that ultimately sends him to prison for the next eight years.  The story begins in earnest as he comes home from prison and into a new life, while his long-suffering girlfriend, Monica (Nafessa Williams) and daughter Lia (Ariana Neal), welcome him home.  Julio is anxious to start with a clean slate and get into a job that can provide for his family.  Finding a job for an ex-con is tough but through connections of an old friend, he gets a position at a local movie theater.  Before we go further, I must point out the relevancy of this movie to urban life, where a man still in high school has a daughter with his girlfriend.  Obviously not an ideal situation, but one that many people find themselves in, and thus, the conscientious nature of the film.

The job at the movie theater seems mundane, but Julio meets a colorful cast of coworkers, who add comedic touches to his life (and to the film).  In fact, one of the best qualities of the movie is the zingers that come from the co-workers.  There isn’t profanity but the humor gets a little blue at times (e.g. stripper poles) but it’s also realistic when you consider the people and the reality in which they live.  There are also a couple of scenes of alcohol use, and abuse, where Julio is drunk doing karaoke at the local bar.  But it is indicative of his struggle, wondering why God allowed him to suffer for eight years for a crime he didn’t commit.  I know people like this.  I feel like this sometimes too.  The reality of urban struggles and modern family dynamics are real and refreshing to see.

As Julio continues his day-to-day duties he’s asked to have more responsibility, and thus it results in more pay.  Things are going well, until he’s exposed to the reality at the movie theater, which makes his life extremely complicated.  The story culminates in a touching scene between Monica, Julio’s now fiancee, and Julio as they discuss how to navigate the future.  She encourages him to trust God, even though he’s never prayed before.  And again, you see a real moment that apparently was improvised on the set between the actors and, unlike other faith-based films, it is authentic.  This happens in life, and if you’re a person of faith you’ve seen it before.  And if you’re not a person of faith, you can see yourself in Julio’s shoes although your exact situation may be different.

As the movie progresses, the plot becomes more fantastical.  It has a slow 30 minutes in the beginning, but after those 30 minutes I found myself really liking the characters.  The characters come to life by a talented cast with both new and tried and true names, such as Bill Duke (Julio’s parole officer), Richard T. Jones (Julio’s basketball coach and mentor), Yancey Arias (the villain), Noel “G.” Gugliemi (a gangster), and Manwell Reyes a.k.a. “Manny” from the musical group Group1Crew (also a villain).  Around the time that you start to get accustomed to the characters, you are suddenly interrupted by an unusual animated sequence.  These animations also appear about 4 or 5 different times in the film.  They are beautifully animated with a decidedly urban artistic touch.  The goal of the animations is to show what is happening in Julio’s head, but they add a very “indie film” vibe and some may find these sequences vexing.  They reminded me of old Bill Cosby shows of the 70’s and his Fat Albert cartoons where you find similar transitions between animation and real life sequences.  But, as the plot continues, it picks up the pace and becomes reminiscent of a 70’s cop show, which is fun and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  However, the animations remind us that it’s about Julio’s journey, about him coming to faith through trying circumstances, and also forgiveness.

All throughout “Restored Me” there are countless moments that are thought-provoking, poignant, and fun.  It is a film you can bring friends to and not be ashamed.  However, just prepare them that it is a indie film and has that vibe.  You can’t be in a hurry, but you will have your heart warmed, and you will have some very interesting conversations on the way home.

Restored Me will be in select movie theater locations (listed below) as well as Video On Demand (Netflix, Hulu, etc.) starting on September 9th.

Movie Theaters, Starting Sept 9th.
Atlanta, GA: AMC Southlake Pavilion 24 – 7065 Mt Zion Cir, Morrow, GA 30260
Dallas, TX: AMC Mesquite 30 – 19919 Lyndon B Johnson Fwy, Mesquite, TX 75149
Detroit, MI: AMC Livonia 20 – 19500 Haggerty RdLivonia, MI 48152
Houston, TX: AMC Gulf Pointe 30 – 11801 S Sam Houston Pkwy E, Houston, TX 77089
Los Angeles, CA: AMC Rolling Hills 20 – 2591 Airport Dr, Torrance, CA 90505
New York, NY: AMC Loews Jersey Gardens 20 – 651 Kapkowski Rd, Elizabeth, NJ 07201
Philadelphia, PA: AMC Neshaminy 24 – 660 Neshaminy MallBensalem, PA 19020
Phoenix, AZ: AMC Arizona Center 24 – 565 N 3rd StPhoenix, AZ 85004
Tampa, FL: AMC Regency 20 – 2496 W Brandon BlvdBrandon, FL 33511
Chicago, IL: AMC Village Crossing 18 – 7000 Carpenter RdSkokie, IL 60077

The soundtrack features Snow Tha Product, Bizzle (God Over Money), Social Club Misfits, Pryde, DJ Carisma, Daniel De Bourg, The Janes, Rhyan LaMarr, The Deele, Michael “Wave” Lane, & Michael JT Fisher and it’s available on all digital outlets.