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Unnoticed (Not Rated by the MPAA)

You know you’ve arrived as a film critic when you land your first invite to a premiere. Living in West Texas, I seldom even get a chance to sneak films before they’re released to the general public, let alone screen a film with the entire cast and crew.

Needless to say, when David Sean Stringer handed me my invitation, he caught me off guard. It takes a lot of guts, and confidence in your work as an artist, to invite the enemy to be on hand for the celebration of your brand new film. Premieres are for families and friends and investors. Premieres are designed to make people feel good about a job well done, which is why most filmmakers surround themselves with folks that are more than happy to give them a hearty pat on the back rather than stick one in their back. They just aren’t the sorts of places you find know-it-alls like me. But, when you’re a director as talented as Stringer, you needn’t worry too much about getting a bad review.

Stringer’s feature film debut was co-scripted by General Echols and David Holler. It tells us the story of Bravo 1/Russ (Steve Hinshaw), a black ops soldier assigned to take down a terrorist threat in the Southwest Texas desert terrain somewhere along the Mexican border. Or so he has been told. Jericho (Jennifer Hart) is calling all the shots via satellite back in Eastern Europe and she fully intends to make Russ her patsy. She orders Bravo 2 (David Dunn) to eliminate the threat posed by his apparent disregard for orders.

But, “not everything is as it seems.” Russ stumbles directly into Ben’s path. Ben is a pastor who just happens to be a former military man as well. He decides right then and there he must help the wounded man. After all, “This has gotta be a God thing.” As they make their escape from Bravo 2, Ben gleans enough information to conclude that Russ is being used-not to kill off the dangerous leaders of terrorist cells that threaten America, but to assassinate leaders from the underground church in China. Chinese churches are organized using a cell structure similar to that employed by contemporary enemies of the U.S. government. Jericho eventually cuts Echo 1/Rachel (played by the captivating Dawn Glover) out of the loop. She’s been monitoring the entire sordid affair all along. It was originally her op, but clearly she has some kind of history with Ben, which somehow represents a huge threat to the villainess. Rachel quickly enjoins their quest to find the next mark before it is too late.

Unnoticed is a high-concept, fast-paced action flick with a shocking conspiratorial plot, but the primary subtext is one of salvation. Russ undergoes the ultimate transformation as the protagonist in a story that culminates in his salvation. Rachel recalls her own commitment-and is restored. Ben just helps people along the way, facing serious peril, but perhaps not more so than the spiritual perils that all ministers face in their service to God and men.

Each member of the cast stumbles through a line or two during the course of the film, but this group of so-called novices are still on par with the performances generally offered-up in other so-called Christian movies. Compared to Kirk Cameron and company in the “Left Behind” films, their performances are downright fabulous. This is a good-looking ensemble, especially Dawn Glover, who is totally convincing as an action babe. She was well coached and looks pretty natural holding the weapons in this film and with looks like that, she ought to be on film. She also had a little help from some stunt people (Terri Clardy and Tharren Barnes), but that’s to be expected. Hinisaw, Holler, and Dunn, each have moments to shine as well and, according to the wife, they look pretty good, too. Hart misses a few beats only to counter with some deliciously wicked moments at more crucial moments in the film. They all seem to have some talent for this so it should be interesting to see if they do anything in the future.

Although the dialogue is a bit wooden in a couple of places, for the most part, the story is as enjoyable as it is timely. It is certain to open Christian eyes to the plight of the church in China and the production quality of this film is so extraordinary it ought to reach out to non-Christian audiences with ease. This is in no small part due to Stringer’s keen instincts, natural presentation, and uncanny ability in the editing process. In reality, he shows us so much of what we need to know visually that the film doesn’t require that much dialogue. If Stringer goes unnoticed, it won’t be because Unnoticed is a bad film. Few viewers will ever grasp the sheer volume of special effects, manipulated shots, and enhancements Stringer and company had to make during post. A great deal of attention has been given to the technical aspects of the story and it is those precise details that lend greater credibility to this project.

Unnoticed is an exceptional debut from a promising director. Any shortcomings in this film are easily forgivable considering its shoestring budget, inexperienced cast and crew, and its inherent breakneck style. The pacing is simply phenomenal. There’s little doubt in this critic’s mind that Stringer has what it takes to become a big-time filmmaker. We’ll just have to see if that’s what God has in store for him. I’ll offer up my best rating-HOT DATE-and I’m anxiously awaiting the next project from Stringer and/or G12 Productions.

From a Christian Perspective:

In a film replete with religious symbolism, the message is neither watered-down, nor is it thrown up in-your-face. With the exception of perhaps one scene, the presentation is subtle. I found this approach to Christian filmmaking a huge breath of fresh air and it should raise the bar for years to come. Just because it’s a Christian film, doesn’t mean it has to be inferior in quality. As an action film, there is some instances of violence in “Unnoticed.” The story doesn’t employee foul language or contain any sexual situations whatsoever. Good triumphs over the evil, giving hope to Christians throughout the world. Christian schools, groups, and churches alike should look for ways to screen this film in the future because it entertains while delivering a positive message.

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