• Priceless

    Released By: Universal
    Released On: February 14, 2017.
    Director: Ben Smallbone
    Cast: Joel Smallbone, Bianca Santos, Amber Midthunder, Jim Parrack, David Koechner
    Year: 2016
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    James Stevens (Joel Smallbone) is a man rapidly accelerating down the famed slippery slope. The loss of his wife has sent him to the local bar, where he takes out his frustrations on the bottle and lays drunken beatdowns on those who cross him. Before long, his actions cause him to lose the one person who still loves him, when child services relocates his daughter to his mother's house while James takes a vacation in a correctional facility. James' voice-over lets us know that he was on the wrong path, which leads to his accepting a job transporting "cargo" across country in a cube truck, his only moral stipulation being that he won't take part in any narcotics trafficking.

    When a late night near-collision forces James off of the road, he finds out that his truck manifest contains two Mexican sisters. Throwing caution to the wind, James takes them to a truck stop to clean up, buys them some clean clothes, and even allows them to ride up front, slowly gaining their confidence and learning their story. Daughters of a man who owes a sizable chunk of cash, the girls have been smuggled into the United States to work off the debt; which they believe will be done through employment as maids and waitresses. Everything seems to be going swimmingly as James and elder sister Antonia (Bianca Santos) discuss love and Jesus, but James' spidey-sense starts tingling when he gets to the drop-off meeting point...a seedy motel parking lot. Here, he is introduced to the girls' new charge, Garo (Jim Parrack), a Latino tough-guy pimp with a van-load of girls that he's added to his stable through nefarious means.

    Not inclined to let his moral compass kick in immediately, James sends the girls on their way before attempting to get a room at the motel, only to be told that they only rent by the hour. Perturbed that he's done business in such a place, James instead heads over to another motel, where owner Dale (David Koechner) gives him the cold shoulder when he sees James' vehicle, which he recognizes as a human cargo transporting machine. Guilted that slight bit further is all that is needed to push James into action, and finding that the local police are also involved with Garo, joins with Dale to take matters into his own hands, testing the theory that a human trafficking ring be taken down by two determined fellows with no prior experience.

    Addressing the extremely obvious out of the gate, Priceless is a "faith-based" film based on Christian values, and makes absolutely no excuses about it. Joel Smallbone, along with brother Luke, make up the critically-acclaimed Christian band For King and Country, and brother Ben Smallbone is the Director, with other members of the Smallbone family and the absolutely insane Stephen Baldwin serving as producers. The message that God is with you comes up fairly often, and the film hits all of the usual churchy checkpoints; alcohol is bad, lives slide out of control with no faith, and if you're looking for human traffickers and have no clue, the local massage parlor is obviously a den of sin. Yes, the morality card is heavily played in Priceless, and if that kind of thing irks you, best to stay away.

    To be fair, however, the attempt here to showcase the nastiness of human trafficking and prostitution in a PG-13 environment is an admirable one, to avoid the trappings of excessive language, violence, and sexuality that seem predominant in such a tale. From the outset, it's clear that Priceless isn't going to hit Death Wish or Taxi Driver territory, and that can be a fine thing when handled properly. While Joel Smallbone will probably never be accused of under-acting, he's perfectly adequate here, playing his role competently and managing to be a sympathetic character when required. His written character is heavily flawed, however; he refuses to transport drugs, but doesn't ask questions otherwise, and his defiant, shining moment involves waving a gun around in a playground and getting people killed...but we'll put that one down to the writers and say that for the most part, the acting in Priceless is decently carried out.

    The writing, direction, and pacing, however, does not deserve the same accolades. So much of Priceless is governed by a video game cinematic cut-screen aesthetic, it's downright annoying. Gestures are heavy-handed, sighs meant to signify frustration are over-amplified and coupled with dramatic turns from the camera, and Priceless bogs itself down with over-explanation; those cinematic video game clips are full of flashbacks that establish backstory already implied, and throwing narration over it to explain further is insulting. And that's not even touching the horrifically cornball music video that pops up out of nowhere. The biggest insult, however, that Priceless manages to pull off is that all of these horrible things involve simple choice; one girl in Garo's stable explains that she was "boyfriended"...meeting a guy online who wines her and dines her, takes her to Vegas, drugs her, and sells her off to traffickers, yet she's now assisting the bad guys, getting the new girls hooked on pills and dressed up for the night. James is adamant that Antonia come with him to escape Garo's clutches, despite the fact that she's there to settle a debt for the family; obviously one life is not more valuable than the next, but the film ignores the real-life situations that generate these victims, and pays no mind to the people who will be murdered when such debts are not paid. It's all very touching that James is able to approach a girl on the street who is crying because she can't convince a John to pay her more than twenty dollars, and take her in off of the street and offer her a better life, but it never takes into account that a number of these situations are literally life and death. If Priceless was a better film all around, who knows, maybe it would have been easier to gloss over these sticking points, but as it stands, it's a rather gentle look at a bigger issue, whitewashed with a one-size-fits-all conclusion that fails to treat its subject matter with the respect that it deserves. Viewers that believe that faith trumps all evil will no doubt be satisfied with the candy-coating presented here, but others will remain unconvinced.


    Priceless comes to Universal Blu-Ray (with included DVD and HD Download) in an AVC-encoded 2.40:1 transfer that looks modern and clean. Detail is strong, artifacts are non-existent, and although the darker moments have the customary bluish look, it's a largely pleasant transfer. Audio is handled by DTS-HD Master Audio (English) 5.1 that keeps dialogue front and centre, well-balanced with the rest of the score and effects. Surrounds are used in a non-intrusive way, and there's not much overt use of the subwoofer. Audio issues don't present at all.

    English SDH, French, and Spanish subs are also available.

    First up in the extras is an Exclusive Performance By For King and Country (16:39), live concert footage of the band featuring Priceless actor Joel Smallbone and his brother Luke.

    The Making Of Priceless (10:00) features clips from the film and on-set footage, as well as actors and Director Ben Smallbone discussing the inspiration for the film and how the message of the band For King and Country ties in to it.

    The Heart Behind The Film (3:56) is an interview with Joel and Luke Smallbone discussing chivalry, a woman's worth, and the scourge of human trafficking and prostitution.

    Six Deleted Scenes (12:16) are also available with text indicating why they were cut from the film; for the most part, this reason is pacing.

    Two Trailers are also available; one the official version, and one cut with a ballad by For King and Country.

    The Final Word:

    Taking on a such a subject as Priceless does is no easy feat, but it comes across as somewhat bland and compromised, more like a TV movie with a heavy Christian hand that may be more prone to appeal to a faith-based audience.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      That review is--dare I say this?--priceless.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Hahaha, thanks, Chris!