Hollywood, CA via Las Cruces, NM, USA to the World – With comedian George Lopez leading the way, Walking With Herb opens April 30 in select theaters. Directed by New Mexico State University professor Ross Marks, and adapted by the late Tony Award-winning playwright Mark Medoff (Children of a Lesser God) from NMSU grad Joe Bullock’s book Walking with Herb: A Spiritual Golfing Journey to the Masters, the film delights with a well-chosen cast that also includes Academy Award nominee Edward James Olmos (Miami Vice), Golden Globe- and Academy Award-nominee Kathleen Quinlan, Billy Boyd (Lord of the Rings) and Christopher McDonald (Happy Gilmore).
65-year-old “senior” citizen and bank president Joe Amable-Amos (Edward James Olmos) wins us immediately as formerly reliable but now distracted- with good reason- husband and boss: he’s lost his faith in God. Joe goes from the bliss of first-time grandfather cuddling and singing to a rosebud of a little baby granddaughter to the horror of watching that baby being interred in a tiny pink casket. This is on the heels of his daughter (played by Jessica Medoff) becoming a widow when her husband is killed in the line of duty. “How can God allow these things to happen?” becomes the question that grips Joe’s entire being as he is derailed from what seem otherwise very healthy and loving family relationships and a peaceful life. Through it all, despite her husband’s sudden contempt of it, Sheila Amables-Amos (Kathleen Quinlan) clings to her own faith in God, praying daily that things might change for her husband, that she might be given the strength to forgive his sudden hard-heartedness, mean-spiritedness, and overall withdrawal from life and faith. Their husband-and-wife tension is real, depicted with excellent chemistry, and we get a chance to see, up close, Quinlan’s talent for using every moment on screen to communicate levels of emotion without even saying a word.
Enter George Lopez as “Herb”- well, first enter Herb’s angelic messengers: a Spirit-controlled computer, a dog bearing a scroll of instructions in his charm bracelet of a collar, and a dove. This reviewer won’t share more on those as —spoiler alert— these will add more delight to a film already chock full of it. Herb, even without these interesting introductory stunts, is plenty captivating on his own: he’s a God-speaking but rough-around-the-edges and funky-dressing character riding around on a snazzy classic motorcycle and wearing a goofy helmet that’s a throwback to I’m-not-sure-what. We can’t help but laugh just looking at him, but we soon see he has many talents that prove him to be much more than just another kooky character: Herb’s got some serious God game.
When it’s made clear what the- even kookier- secret mission God, through Herb, has for Joe (getting his 65-year-old self back to golf competition condition- after not playing for some 35 years- and winning “The Golf Championship of the World Entire” ), we’re already so happily on board with the story that we’ve suspended disbelief. We’re invested and eager to see how- and, perhaps more importantly, why– this film brings us so much joy and with such lasting impact.
Casting is superb, and each of the three mains gives us much to savor: Olmos as Joe Amable Amos with his sweet and tender attempts to return to his loving relationship with his wife and to their shared faith; Lopez as Herb with his attention-getting displays of “God in control” as well as thought-provoking moments; and Quinlan as Sheila with her genuine outpouring of constant admiration and even longing for her husband. Both Olmos and Quinlan have individual moments to demonstrate their dramatic chops in addition to comedic talents. For Quinlan, it’s in scenes with her on-screen daughter, talking about the joys of genuine love and affection for the man in one’s life, and during her petitioning God on behalf of her husband- real, raw, and so appreciated. For Olmos, it’s—spoiler alert— the remembrance of that scene when Joe as grandfather is holding his grand-baby in a blanket and softly singing “Have you seen the muffin man?” to her and then, after her death- and in the throes of deciding to believe in God again- in the middle of a stormy night, rummaging through a box of grand-baby remnants, holding that now-empty baby blanket and weeping into it. The depth of emotion is palpable and the scenes here do not fail… they allow us to be in grief with each of them and also come out the other side with them.
Lopez gets plenty of opportunity to demonstrate, again, the breadth of his on-screen abilities, and, from cracking jokes to high-jinxing in unexpected places, to heart-tuggingly exemplifying male bonding, to holding a place marker for us when God shows up in sweet, funny, and also sure-to-bring-a-tear ways, we are enchanted to the point of continuing to happily suspend any disbelief about angels on earth.
Billy Burdock as young, troubled, and would-be villain golf competitor is convincing and even endearing, as is Christopher McDonald as the senior, world-weary ex-pro who is now caddy to a “younger.” This set-up lends an additional element of God’s little touches to our lives; certain scenes provide spotlights on the element of “Wisdom” that lies beneath all other ideals in this film. I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice to say it’s in there… be sure to look for it.
Bullock described his novel and the upcoming film as “a faith message.” In addition to- or, even, beyond that- the adaptation certainly demonstrates what good movie making is all about: we leave having laughed, cried, and feeling better for the experience. Playwright Mark Medoff passed away in 2019 after battling cancer, and Bullock states that he wants Walking with Herb to pay tribute to the late writer. The film is also a valentine to the City of Las Cruces, New Mexico. With its gorgeous shots of the land and mountains surrounding the home and garden of characters Sheila and Joe Amable Amos, the film gives viewers a reason to fall in love with a location that might otherwise be unknown to them.
WALKING with HERB is a film for anyone of any faith who believes in God- and for anyone who doesn’t.
WALKING with HERB is entertaining in every way AND it reminds- again, with delight- that it’s all about keeping (or reclaiming) the faith, staying hopeful, and spreading love in whatever ways we best can that make life worth living. PLEASE DON’T MISS THIS ONE! Opening in select theaters and available via Pureflix.
Edward James Olmos as Joseph Amable Amos
George Lopez as Herb
Kathleen Quinlan as Sheila Amable Amos
Jessica Medoff as the Amable Amos’ daughter
Billy Boyd as Golfing Opponent Archie Bortwick
Christopher McDonald as “Wiley” the caddy
PRODUCTION: Optimism Entertainment, Rio Road Entertainment
DISTRIBUTION: Fathom Events, Optimism Entertainment
DIRECTOR: Ross Kagan Marks
SCREENPLAY: Mark Medoff (Tony Award winner, Academny Award nominee, CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD
PRODUCERS: Brian Espinosa, Ross Kagan Marks and Mark Medoff