Director: Bobby Lacer Screenwriter: T. Laresca Cast: Shane Yuhas, Kevin Sorbo, Joseph Moreland, Robert Shepherd MPAA: Not Rated

Most people know the phrase “I Can’t Breathe” as a movement against police brutality in the wake of Eric Garner’s death in 2014. Garner was unarmed and pled that he couldn’t breathe as cops placed him a chokehold for selling smokes without a license, leading to his demise. Black Lives Matter protested with this slogan and the messaging became clear about how police brutality would not be tolerated. This film, however, is not about Eric Garner. It is instead about a rich white guy grappling with the paradox of getting stomped on by the boot he licks.

The film is based on the true story of Tom Laresca, a man who was mistaken by police as a trespasser, murdered by the cops, and then revived in an ambulance. Laresca’s situation should be an eye-opening moment, but instead turns into a faith-based drivel of authority apologia. As the actor playing Laresca narrates this film, he constantly assures the white middle-class Christians watching that he’s not against the police. But this one police officer who forced him to the ground and nearly killed him was a bad one. It’s cartoonishly bad, even. It’s so bad that he doesn’t seem like the other cops in the movie.

Tom’s life goes from bad to worse, as his attempts to seek justice fall on deaf ears, eviction is at his door, and a cancer diagnosis is delivered. Things are looking so bad that Tom turns towards the Bible. Specifically, he turns to the tale of Job. Maybe all of this turmoil is just God’s way of testing faith. It couldn’t possibly be because of a corrupt police force that never answers for aggression, the vicious features of capitalism, and the evils of the healthcare system. No, it couldn’t be any of that. This…this must all be part of God’s plan. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Presented in the glossy lens of Christploitation, there is a laughable level of trying to dramatize Tom’s plight like an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. Tom’s few minutes of being dead are presented with the bog-standard ascending soul special effects and the most comical of speedy returning-to-body scenes. The acting is so absurdly off-key that the brief presence of Kevin Sorbo ends up being a highlight. Moments intended to be sad or meaningful trip all over the place, as with the incredibly inappropriate music sting when Tom gets his cancer diagnosis.

In the same way that conservatives have appropriated the word “woke,” I Can’t Breathe places a baffling white perspective on a movement against police brutality. Tom shouldn’t have had to suffer and it’s tragic that this happened, but it’s even more tragic that the real-life Tom treats this clear case more like a mystery. Black Lives Matter has had to protest for police to be held accountable. Tom gently asks and is baffled that he won’t get an answer. He’s so confused that the film literally ends with the real-life Tom offering up a reward for answers as to why a cop tried to kill him. Okay, Tom, you want the answer? Here it is: The police brutalized you because they could. They don’t have to answer for anything, especially when their targets are as apologetic of the system as you are. I’ll expect that check in the mail.

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