"Thr3e" | Faith-based thriller fails to thrill

If "Thr3e" is any indication of what we can expect from the emerging trend of studio-funded faith-based movies, we may find ourselves wishing "The Passion of the Christ" had been a box-office bomb.

It was Mel Gibson's movie that prompted Hollywood to tap the neglected market of Christian filmgoers, and now we've got this tepid yet well-meaning thriller based on the 2003 best-seller by Christian novelist Ted Dekker. Released through 20th Century Fox's new Fox Faith movie division, "Thr3e" is a hollow exercise in commercial opportunism, with all the evangelical appeal of an episode of "CSI."

From its silly "Se7en"-like title to a laundry list of clichés that went stale a decade ago, "Thr3e" attempts to inject respectable values into a twisting plot involving a cellphone terrorist, a copycat killer and that tired staple of psycho-thrillers, multiple-personality disorder resulting from childhood trauma.

It all centers on Kevin (Marc Blucas), a seminary student raised by wacko relatives who look and act like escapees from an insane asylum (or another movie altogether). Now he's being tormented by the "Riddle Killer," who's calling with cryptic clues about a confession that Kevin must make to save his soul.

As Kevin joins forces with a police psychologist (Justine Waddell) whose brother was killed in a recent booby-trap bombing, "Thr3e" becomes a patchwork quilt of other, better movies. Its uneven tone and familiar plot elements would almost pass as parody if they weren't dished out with such sobering blandness. Flashbacks, red herrings and the "Saw"-like voice of the Riddle Killer are just a few of the ingredients that provoke unintentional giggles while hinting at biblical significance.

Director Robby Henson (whose 1995 debut "Pharaoh's Army" is an underrated gem) maintains an adequate level of suspense, but "Thr3e" is plagued by its own conflicting priorities. It's so busy mimicking mainstream thrillers that its message — we need the power of God to combat evil — is diluted to the point of triviality. You're likely to gain more Christian insight from old "Davey and Goliath" clay-animation cartoons.

Jeff Shannon: j.sh@verizon.net

Movie review 1.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"Thr3e" with Marc Blucas, Justine Waddell, Laura Jordan and Priscilla Barnes. Directed by Robby Henson, from a screenplay by Alan B. McElroy, based on the novel by Ted Dekker. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and terror. Several theaters.