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Originally published Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 3:02 PM

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‘Not Today’: a faith-based film on a mission to end sex-trafficking

A movie review of “Not Today,” a faith-based film about a troubled young man trying to find a girl sold into slavery in India. It’s barely competent but full of good intentions.

Special to The Seattle Times

Review 1.5 stars

‘Not Today,’ with Cody Longo, John Schneider, Cassie Scerbo, Shari Rigby, Persis Karen, Walid Amini. Written and directed by Jon Van Dyke. 104 minutes. Rated PG-13 for mature themes. Several theaters.

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The faith-based Christian film “Not Today” is so defined by its worthy mission to help end sex trafficking that commenting on its artistic quality is akin to reviewing a public service announcement.

Still, this movie aims to persuade through commercial appeal. On that score, “Not Today” barely works, but it gets by on ambition.

A story of personal transformation against a backdrop of human exploitation, “Not Today” stars Cody Longo as a pampered, self-pitying young man named Caden. A child of recent divorce, the distraught Caden gave up church to become a party animal. He’s nearly lost the affections of a straight-arrow girlfriend (Cassie Scerbo) and worries his indulgent mom (Shari Rigby) and wary stepfather (John Schneider).

While on a vacation in India with loutish pals, Caden cruelly berates a desperate, homeless father, Kiran (Walid Amini), who begs for food money for his young daughter, Annika (Persis Karen). Driven by guilt, Caden later approaches Kiran only to find he unwittingly sold his daughter into sexual slavery.

From that moment, “Not Today” — quite unexpectedly — becomes a variation on John Ford’s classic “The Searchers,” with young Caden vaguely in the John Wayne role of an embittered anti-hero in dogged pursuit of a missing girl, accompanied in this case by her father.

It would be nice to say this inspired idea yielded a strong film, but “Not Today” requires audience goodwill to get through it.

Writer-director Jon Van Dyke offers rugged production values, and his real agenda — getting Christian viewers to help end sex trafficking — mires the movie in self-conscious angst and speeches.

Longo makes things harder with a strained, shrill performance as a boy-man doubting God.

The real purpose of “Not Today” is found in its coda: a direct plea for people to get involved. Who can argue with that?

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

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