''What is it, Nathan?" asks the teenage girl breathlessly as her older brother hands her a heavy tome. ''It's the Book of Mormon," he responds. ''Does it have any pictures?" she wants to know.
Apparently not, otherwise there might not be a need for the handsomely mounted but awfully bland ''The Work and the Glory," a tract for the Church of Latter Day Saints disguised as a Hallmark Hall of Fame-style movie. Would this movie be receiving a Boston-area release if our state governor weren't a practicing Mormon? Probably not; earnest and credulous, ''Work" is aimed at true believers rather than the spiritually curious, and it offers even less for fans of compelling drama.
Based on the first novel in an eight-volume saga by LDS author Gerald N. Lund, ''Work" is a period film set in Palmyra, N.Y., in 1826. ''The Passion of Joseph Smith" this isn't, though. Rather, the story focuses on the Steeds, a homesteader family whose patriarch (Sam Hennings) hires the two young Smith brothers, Joseph (Jonathan Scarfe) and Hyrum (Ryan Wood), to help out around the farm. Soon Joseph is reluctantly telling the Steed boys about his heavenly visitation and the angels' promise of a golden Bible.
The reaction is, as you might expect, mixed. Older brother Joshua (Eric Johnson) scoffs at the revelations and falls in with local miscreants plotting to steal the gold plates, should they ever show up. Kid brother Nathan (Alexander Carroll), by contrast, sees the light, and most of ''The Work and the Glory" deals with how he comes to terms with his new faith despite resistance all around. ''Joseph does have a sacred record, and he is translating it through the power of God," Nathan insists, but his father dismisses such protestations as ''crazy talk," and the good folk of Palmyra taunt the Smiths and their followers. ''All you fine Christian people," explodes Nathan in a street corner confrontation. ''Is this what you teach on Sunday? Bigotry?"
Clearly, ''The Work and the Glory" wants to frame its argument as a plea for religious tolerance, and that's all to the good (although it might be noted that, as in most films made by the devout, there's only one religion asking to be tolerated here). To its credit, the movie is openhearted and never sanctimonious, and for Mormons, the movie will doubtless be seen as a well-produced and welcome drama of the founding of their faith.
For others, writer-director Russ Holt's film may seem a cliched, sometimes unintentionally hilarious Classics Illustrated version of events. The dialogue is wooden and often anachronistic -- ''Part of me says this is incredible. God appearing to a 14-year-old? Sorry" -- and the players come across as modern TV actors in well-pressed 19th-century outfits. The worst offender is Tiffany Dupont as Lydia, the pretty shopkeeper's daughter torn between Joshua's sex appeal and Nathan's God-fearing decency. The actress gives it her all but, sadly, there doesn't seem to be that much to give, and, worse, she seems far more 2005 Burbank than 1826 Palmyra.
''The Work and the Glory" is resolutely upbeat, and it leaves off as Smith and his flock are establishing their church in Fayette, N.Y. -- not for this movie the wandering, the martyrdom, or Brigham Young. But there are seven more Lund books to go, a receptive LDS audience, and a divinely inspired filmmaker. A little cinematic inspiration wouldn't hurt next time, though.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.