The Gospel Road Robert Elfstrom

As readers of Joe Bob Briggs all know, 1973 was the "year of the musical Jesus." And just under the radar of the year's adaptations of Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar flew this heartfelt piece of religious kitsch, whose true home is not the theatre or the living room but the church basement. Johnny Cash lends his authoritative voice to the proceedings, offering some hugely facile commentary to a bunch of longhaired bathrobe-wearers as they stagger across the Holy Land enacting the Gospels. Director Robert Elfstrom naturally has the role of Jesus, but thankfully he and the other stunned-looking participants don't have many lines, aside from June Carter Cash, who has a wince-inducing monologue as Mary Magdalene. The man in black is asked to shoulder the dialogue burden with totally credible readings of some ridiculous voiceover and song lyrics, which might be more impressive if he hadn't actually co-written them. The whole enterprise (a production of Johnny and June) is a throwback to a woolly-headed, post-hippie Protestantism that cultivated with-it affectations, and as such will cause general hilarity in anyone with even vague hipster leanings. But though you cringe at the Christmas pageant fakery and the abuse of silhouettes and lens flares, you have to admit that the film isn't really harmful. There's no strident conservative message or punitive guilt tripping; its only thesis is "Jesus is Nice", and it wishes that niceness on you and yours. While nobody will mistake this thing for The Gospel According to St. Matthew (or, God forbid, The Passion of the Christ), it's got its heart in the right place even if its aesthetics are a mess. (Fox)