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Movie reviewer Phil Boatwright helps readers decide for themselves

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (BP)–How many times have you walked out of a movie just 15 minutes after it started because you wouldn’t sit through one you didn’t approve of? That’s what evangelical movie reviewer Phil Boatwright hopes to help Christians avoid.

“My job is to get Christians the information about the film, so they don’t have to financially support the movie [by buying tickets] in order to talk intelligently about it with others — including their family,” said Boatwright, who became a Christian and grew up in First Baptist Church in Van Nuys, Calif.

One of Hollywood’s few truly conservative critics, Boatwright is absolutely passionate about how Americans entertain themselves. For the past 15 years this self-proclaimed avid movie buff has used his passion to inform families about the entertainment they are consuming.

Boatwright began life in Tinsel Town like many others, as a bright-eyed kid right out of college. Not long after graduating from Oral Roberts University, he loaded up his car and chased his acting dreams to Los Angeles. Shortly after his move, his college classmate Kathy Epstein (later Kathy Lee Gifford) introduced him to the producer of “Days of Our Lives,” which led him to what he thought would be his big Hollywood break — background work on the show.

But Boatwright soon became disenchanted with life as a struggling actor. Even after moving into the church market — where he did more than 70 plays and 12 films — he completely lost interest in acting.

“I don’t miss acting at all,” Boatwright said. “I now can take all of that experience I had in acting and put it into my commentaries.”

That’s when Boatwright went back to something he tried with little success in his college days — writing entertainment reviews. He started publishing his own monthly pamphlet on the Christian television community, but he folded it after just six years.

In 1987 he began a monthly guide called The Movie Reporter, where he looks at movies from a distinctly Christian perspective. He has continued to publish the guide for the past 15 years, in addition to writing reviews and entertainment-related articles for publications around the country. Boatwright also has published a second volume of “How To Choose A Good Video Every Time,” a short book that helps families select good videos for home viewing and offers insights for countering some of the negative influences of the entertainment industry.

Two elements make Boatwright’s work unique. First, he purposely shies away from making thumbs up or thumbs down reviews. He prefers instead to lay out all significant information about the movie, letting readers make their own minds up. In his ratings he includes exact counts of vulgarities, instances of taking God’s name in vain and other info a discerning Christian reader would want to know.

“I hope people read my reviews and either agree with them or enjoy arguing with them, but I want them to have the synopsis and reason for the rating to aid in their decision-making, or at least be able to discuss the movie with their children,” Boatwright said.

Second, Boatwright is possibly the only reviewer in the industry to give his readers “Video Alternatives.” These alternatives show readers movies they can rent that portray the same themes or storylines without some of the questionable material. Often he gives different alternatives for those in different stages of life, such as children, youth and adults.

Many of the alternatives he gives are older movies that came out during a time when America valued substance more than crudeness.

“I’m not at war with what a film can be,” Boatwright said. “It can uplift, enrich and nourish you, and it is just a tragedy when it isn’t being used that way.”

Boatwright might not be preaching, but he considers his work as a movie reviewer a ministry. With entertainment becoming a bigger and bigger part of American life, the moral impact on individuals and society can’t simply be ignored by Christian families. When he equips those families with a biblical perspective on films, he hopes he is serving both those families and God.

One aspect of films continues to drive Boatwright’s reviews. It grieves him to hear characters in movies take the Lord’s name in vain.

“What disturbs me the most isn’t the amount of sex and vulgarities in movies,” he said. “I find them to be the symptoms of the problem. The problem is irreverence to God.”

Boatwright remains frustrated with evangelicals in the country who still support movies that dishonor God even though they have access to biblically based reviews from a variety of reviewers. He knows several strong Christians in his own church who support the same movies that everyone else does.

Regardless of how many people heed his cautions about movies, Boatwright writes for a higher judge, and he is glad to serve in a ministry that fits him like a glove.

“I realize that there aren’t going to be very many people who come to Christ through a movie review, but in the end I hope what I do glorifies God and strengthens the local church,” Boatwright said.
For more information about Boatwright’s Movie Reporter service, including a fund-raising product he offers church and school groups, check out his website at www.moviereporter.com. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: FAITHFUL REVIEWER.

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  • Tobin Perry