Ever since the massive success of “The Passion of the Christ” in 2004, Hollywood studios have realized that there is a huge Christian or “faith-based” market eager to enjoy a night out at the movies. In the years since, the frequency of Christian-themed films has greatly increased, often resulting in surprisingly big hits, such as 2014’s “Heaven is for Real,” which grossed $90 million.
Seeing “Heaven” make such a splash at the box office inspired its star, Greg Kinnear, to find another meaningful movie project. “Same Kind of Different as Me” bears an even more impressive cast than his earlier hit. The film is based on the true story of international art dealer Ron Hall (Kinnear), who befriends a homeless man named Denver (Djimon Hounsou) in the hopes of saving his struggling marriage to his wife, Debbie (Renée Zellweger).
Based on the best-selling book of the same name, “Same” uses the themes of friendship and redemption to tell a story that is an extremely timely balm to our racially divided times. Ron is a guy living the high life with a wife and two kids in a spacious home, when his wife Debbie busts him for having an affair during their 19th year of marriage.
Debbie is willing to forgive him and take another chance on their marriage by asking him to join her in working at a homeless mission. While dishing out food to the poor, an angry man named Denver storms in with a baseball bat and angrily trashes the cafeteria — but Debbie defuses the situation and earns his friendship by confronting him with firm politeness.
Denver haunts Debbie later that night, as she realizes he’s been appearing for weeks in her dreams. Seeking him out on the streets, she pays extra attention to him and encourages Ron to do the same. As Denver gets to know them better, his tragic life story shakes Ron to his core and they establish a life-changing bond.
“Same” boasts impressive performances from its lead trio, who each have Oscar nominations or wins to their credit. Working with another Oscar winner, former champ Jon Voight, they provide the film an instant credibility that many other faith-based films lack due to their low budgets and unknown actors.
The interactions between Zellweger and Hounsou are especially touching. As Denver, Hounsou has to walk a fine line to avoid falling into the timeworn movie cliché of the “wise black man” (which is a nicer way of phrasing an overused and longtime movie trope), but he invests some real power in both his occasional outbursts and more frequent moments of thoughtful brooding.
The movie does have one glaring weak spot: its timeframe. While the main story takes place in the present day, Denver shares some of his personal stories in narrated flashbacks talking about his childhood working on a plantation picking cotton and getting terrorized by hooded Klansmen. Unless Hounsou is playing a character decades beyond his actual age, the effect is highly distracting, but ultimately can be overlooked given the beautiful overall message of the film.
Aside from that, the movie occasionally plods, but those who are eager to see a movie with meaning about nice people who don’t blow one another up with superheroic weapons should find its thoughtful pace to be a bonus. “Same Kind of Different as Me” (rated PG-13) is different than most movies at the box office right now, and is worth the price of admission if you’re looking for something to make you feel good about humanity during this utterly insane era we’re living in.