Unlike most Christian movies, this one doesn’t really have a central message. It’s mostly a silly comedy, created by the Australian Christian pop rock band, Newsboys. There’s very little information about the making of this movie online. In fact, like last week’s Second Glance, there isn’t even a dedicated Wikipedia page. I couldn’t even find an image of the cover that I could easily paste in this blog, so here’s an album cover instead. Speaking as someone who kind of grew up on this band, I know a few interesting BTS details anyway.
Down Under the Big Top released around the same time as their 1996 album, Take Me To Your Leader, which also happened to be at the height of the band’s popularity. It’s also the last major project that their original lead singer, John James, would be involved with before he quit the band. While at the time he announced that he wanted to become a pastor, 10 years later he publically admitted it was because he actually developed a serious drugs and alcohol addiction, nearly destroying his marriage. It’s nice to know that he’s since overcome these addictions.
Other band members at the time included Peter Fuller, who first created the band, Jody Davis, Jeff Frankenstein, newcomer Phil Joel and Duncan Phillips (the longest lasting current member of the band, as Fuller retired back in 2009). All of the band members play themselves in the movie, so it’s hard to judge their acting abilities here. Steve Taylor, who worked with the band behind the scenes for decades, also plays a small role. Other cast members include Phil Madeira as Hack the Clown, real life twins Amy and Becky Glass as twins Darlene and Carlene, and Russ Long as the stagehand. Most of the cast didn’t appear in many other movies besides this.
Most of the acting in this movie is intentionally hammy, and that’s part of the fun. This movie is mostly made to promote their already successful Take Me To Your Leader album, and includes several songs from it. Most of the movie’s comedy comes from its self-awareness. It knows that it’s a very low-budget movie starring a rock band. It knows that as a Christian comedy, it can’t go too far with the on-screen violence or dirty humour.
The story is that James’s Italian uncle passes away, with his Circus Luigi in massive debt. The Newsboys agree to put on one last show to try to give Luigi’s uncle enough money to retire on, but with one week to prepare and most of the circus staff having quit – including the elephant – the odds are stacked against them. Nobody in the band has any circus-like experience. Also, an Australian band member’s Italian uncle ran a circus in the United States, and he’s the only person who can take over. This premise is intentionally ridiculous.
The movie starts off with part of the song, Reality, that feels like it’s supposed to tie directly into the movie. Phil recently ran away from his parents to join the circus, and the opening lyrics of the song are spoken by him as he’s writing a letter to his parents. This scene also introduces Hack the clown as a bit of a bully, who also seems to be running the whole circus at this point. It then shifts to the band performing Reality on-stage, but clearly limiting the viewpoint to the core members of the band. The next scene jokes about how Kevin Mills, their former base player, just quit. It’s a reference to how their base player was their most frequently replaced member over their first 11 years as a band.
Side-note, Kevin Mills died in a motorcycle crash in 2000. Even though he left the band after only 3 years, he remained friends with the band up until his death, and also made a couple of TV appearances between 1991 and his death. His last appearance was in an episode of Blind Date.
Anyway, the self-depreciating humour continues throughout the entire movie. Without any official acrobats, the circus must rely on the animal training twins to perform … a hula hoop toss? Complete with a drumroll even. There’s also Fuller trying to juggle chainsaws with only a week’s worth of practice. I won’t ruin how that ends. Although Phil’s idea for a finale is actually quite good, it doesn’t end well.
Although the circus is a complete disaster, as one would expect given the circumstances, they accidentally stumble on another lucrative opportunity. And yes, that opportunity was set up earlier in the movie. Through their experience, the in-movie Phil joins the band as their new bass player. The movie sort-of ends with the remaining Reality chorus, along with the entire circus dancing on stage. When I say it sort-of ends, it truly ends with a Japanese woman helping her grandchildren get to sleep by playing a music video of “Shine”. Shine, from their previous album Going Public, may actually be their most famous song. Funny thing about that, it was quickly written, composed and thrown together as a filler song for Going Public. They since named their first Greatest Hits album, and several books, after the song.
I’m not sure whether to recommend this one or not. It’s a very silly, low-budget movie that’s also short. Personally, I grew up on the band. It was the first band I became a real fan of, and this movie introduced me to them. I still enjoy listening to the John James/Peter Fuller years every now and then. With all that said, this movie might not be all that appealing to anyone who isn’t familiar with the band. It’s easy to find for free on YouTube, so if you’re at least intrigued, here it is.
I haven’t 100% decided on next week’s movie, but it’ll either be Miracle Man or Rock: It’s Your Decision. Miracle Man is basically the Birdemic of Christian movies – that should tell you all you need to know. Rock: It’s Your Decision is an anti-rock music propaganda film that actually makes its main Christian character look like a crazed lunatic who destroys all of his relationships. The weekend of Christmas, I’ll be looking at Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, which truly needs to be seen to be believed. I plan on wrapping up the year with the first Left Behind movie, but that may change if I find something crazier.
Must admit I’ve never seen this one, sounds like the low budget really scuppered it. Not sure if it something I’d enjoy. As for your next film, well Miracle Man sounds promising!
I wouldn’t say the low budget hurt the movie, especially since it’s intentionally low-budget, but if you’re not familiar with the band, you probably won’t enjoy it. This is after all a 26-year-old comedy starring a band that is now well past its prime (partly because it hasn’t regularly featured an original member for 13 years).
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