Pass the Ammo

A satire of greedy televangelists, Pass the Ammo (1988) was made in Eureka Springs (Carroll County). It opens with a helicopter shot of the giant Christ of the Ozarks statue. This is followed by a television sermon by the Reverend Ray Porter (Tim Curry), who asks, “Why be afraid of nuclear war? Welcome it! For it is part of God’s prophecy.” The congregation in Porter’s megachurch and his TV audience listen raptly and, when he gets to his key point (“Today’s goal—$1 million for Jesus!”), they burst into an enthusiastic rendition of “Give Me That Old-Time Religion.” As contributions pour in from thousands of low-income donors, Porter sings ecstatically, “Lay your money down for Jesus! You owe your life to him!” and “Another touchdown for Jesus!”

After this shocking and funny opening, the film becomes less effective as Jesse (Bill Paxton), his girlfriend Claire (Linda Kozlowski), and his idiot cousins Big Joe and Arnold decide to rob the megachurch to recover Claire’s inheritance, which was stolen by Porter. The bungling bandits end up under siege by the police and take Porter, his wife Darla (Annie Potts), and the whole congregation hostage. The young, unnamed governor of Arkansas (Jim Holmes) arrives, clearly representing Bill Clinton. He is under the thumb of moneyed interests and religious leaders, who are incensed by the raid on the church and get the media to call it terrorism. The governor brings in the National Guard, including tanks. The police and Guard are joined by a well-armed right-wing militia. In this zany and dangerous chaos, the only voice of reason is the local sheriff Rascal Lebeaux (Leland Crooke), who tries to defuse the crisis. The climax (shown on live TV) is a vast expenditure of ammunition, mostly badly aimed. Almost no one is hurt. The TV audience is mainly interested in the revelations of Porter’s adulteries.

Director David Beaird and writers Joel Cohen and Neil Cohen have modest career credits, though Joel Cohen was one of several writers of the animated hit Toy Story (1995). Paxton and Curry have had significant film careers, while the two leading ladies were lesser lights, though Kozlowski was known for the Crocodile Dundee films (1986, 1988, and 2001) and Potts for Ghostbusters (1984), as well as for her role in the long-running sitcom Designing Women (1986–1993). Pass the Ammo was fortunate to come out just after televangelist Jimmy Swaggart confessed to sexual misconduct, but the review in Variety (March 9, 1988) was scathing: “Where messed-up ministries are concerned, there’s better entertainment on the nightly news.…Basic idea could have been a hoot, if only [the picture] didn’t keep veering out of control.” However, the Variety reviewer noted that the “affable score” by prolific composer Carter Burwell “mixes country hoke and hosannahs in the right spirit.”

Pass the Ammo is the only Arkansas-made film noted in the documentary Hollywood vs. Religion (1994), in which critic Michael Medved claimed that Hollywood films were biased against Christianity and Judaism. Robert Cochran and Suzanne McCray, in Lights! Camera! Arkansas!, called Beaird’s film “a spectacularly uneven but occasionally quite funny spoof of a greed-head televangelist.…The over-the-top approach is perfect for the subject—is it possible to exaggerate the tackiness or the venality of these guys?”

For additional information:
Cochran, Robert, and Suzanne McCray. Lights! Camera! Arkansas!: From Broncho Billy to Billy Bob Thornton. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2015.

Pass the Ammo.” Internet Movie Database. (accessed October 6, 2020).

Michael Klossner
Little Rock, Arkansas


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