Down Under the Big Top (Emi Distribution, 1996) is a movie featuring the alternative Christian band, the Newsboys, directed by music producer and musician Steve Taylor. It is primarily a wacky, comedic story with no point at all (the quirkiness of life aside), secondarily a movie mocking movies about life, faith, and hope; and only very thirdly a Christian movie with general religious overtones. I highly recommend the viewing of this movie to anyone with a taste for weird movies, and especially to those with Christian influences.
The Newsboys play the Newsboys; not surprisingly, there are no other main characters played by known actors, although there are guest appearances by Mark Lowry (as a commercial director), Gary Chapman (as a translator), and Steve Taylor himself (as himself). Sound accompanying the movie is not suprisingly provided by the band, primarily from their (at the time) most recent release, Take Me To Your Leader.
The movie is the story of the Newsboys spending a week attempting to revive the family circus of John's deceased uncle Luigi. Also central to the movie is the band's (fictional) acquisition of bass player Phil Joel, which occurred (in real life) sometime between the albums Shine and Take Me To Your Leader.
The plot of the movie is not something to be envied, nor was meant to be; the heart and soul of the movie is in the bizarre execution of the characters, situations, and conversations, buzzing like flies around the corpse of something very noticeably and intentionally dead. This is a comedy, after all. The humor is comparable in ways to both Donnie Darko and Monty Python; the jokes range from slapstick to massive parody. My favorite dialogue from the movie, though, is two band members discussing the origins of bagels. Here are two lines of a minute long conversation:
"They're not called poachels, they're called bagels. They're baked, get it?"
"All I'm saying is, if they're not poached, they're just a roll with a hole."
The humor of the script and performance are too subtle to be explained well. Go see the movie.
Inevitable Commentary On The Religious Nature Of The Film
Yes, this is a Christian movie. There is a liberal sprinkling of the theme of salvation throught the story of the prodigal son, parallelled by Phil Joel's role in the movie, as the guy who literally ran off and joined the circus. Phil's story generates approximately 30 seconds of actual religious discussion. If that bugs you, don't watch the movie. Aside from that, I should mention that the movie is tied to the music of the Newsboys, a very Christian alternative band; the lyrics of the music are far more religiously incendiary than any of the movie script. Knowing what I do about Steve Taylor, I consider this to be strictly intentional.
I first saw this movie when I considered myself a serious Christian; as an ex-Christian, I look back at this movie primarily as a brilliant comedic excercise by Christians I respected at the time, namely the Newsboys and Steve Taylor. I would like to think I would enjoy this movie as much if I saw it today. Lest I be accused of hypocrisy, let me say that I really do think this movie can and should be enjoyed well out of a 'religious' context. What little religious, moral, and ethical content there is, is as easily viewed as universally palatable as that of Signs. (Interpret as you wish.)
Amazon currently lists one used copy at $50. half.com lists 5 or 6 copies ranging from $15 to $60. I don't think I've seen this movie new in 6 or 7 years. That is only to say you may have a hard time getting this movie, like everything else Taylor did.
Sources: Down Under the Big Top, copyright the Newsboys or someone. Someone please vote on my goddam nodes.