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Frail effort

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Issue: "Who is Tom Daschle?," Oct. 12, 2002

Unlike Changing Lanes, Frailty, also recently released on video, primarily exploits its religious themes for pure shock value.

Many critics liked the movie (rated R for violence and bad language) when it was initially released in theaters, appreciating the Gothic mood and "subtle" gore (most of the brutal killings happen off screen). Frailty begins with a character played by Matthew McConaughey entering the Dallas headquarters of the FBI, claiming to know the identity of the "God's Hand" serial killer, wanted for dispatching six (known) victims in the name of faith. He weaves a complicated tale about his father (Bill Paxton, who also directs), a simple-minded man who claims to have seen a vision from God instructing him to kill demons disguised as humans.

Mr. McConaughey's character and his younger brother, both kids at the time, are drawn into this supposedly divine mission, which involves dispatching "demons" with an ax named Otis. Frailty uses Old Testament images (and a few from Revelation) as the backdrop for Mr. Paxton's quest. In a scene deleted from the theatrical release, but available on the Frailty DVD, the film's narrator makes it clear that Mr. Paxton's God is the God of the Old Testament, which the narrator finds inconsistent with the Jesus of the New Testament.

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Frailty does not use its religious fanaticism plot to condemn religious fervor in general-actually, it doesn't exploit its themes to much effect at all, except to add to the Gothic tone. In one strange twist among many in the film, the story even suggests that Mr. Paxton's character (and his sons) were in fact justified in carrying out their God-given task.

Frailty, regrettably, is neither challenging as a morality play, convincing as a thriller, nor generally edifying as entertainment.

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