Most of the outreach that the folks marketing Sherwood Pictures’ “Courageous” have been doing has been aimed at churches, and that is paying off on fandango.com, Harry Medved says. It’s leading the pre-sales race for this weekend’s new openings. A spokesperson for the film said they’d sold over $2 million in tickets, as of Wednesday, which suggests a pretty good opening weekend.“Fireproof” used that same churches-first strategy to open well and hang on until it had earned some $33 million. Impressive for a faith-based film. But at least part of that had to be based on “star appeal.” Whatever place Kirk Cameron has in the TV/movie star pecking order, he was a selling point on that earlier film. And there’s nobody of his stature in “Courageous.”The film’s are very similar — “Fireproof” was about a firefighter who has to learn to take a faith-based approach to saving his marriage, “Courageous” has sheriff’s deputies who must learn to take a faith-based approach to being good fathers. Since “Facing the Giants” was about a football coach, you see the Kendricks Brother’s running theme — defer to authority, both secular and a higher authority, something “Courageous” pushes. Hard. The story structures of “Fireproof” and “Courageous” match up, closely (action opener, well-timed action beats later, a little inside-the-profession humor).As I said in my review of “Courageous,” the films are showing more polish with each outing. The writing, save for a scene here and there, is nothing a major studio would green light to put on the screen (Tristar was originally behind the film, Sony’s “Affirm Pictures” arm was involved, then backed away from it).And the cast is sorely in need of people with that movie or TV star’s spark, that thing the camera captures that goes beyond simple competence. There have to be cost and convenience reasons that make co-writer/director Alex Kendrick take the lead role in a film like this. Otherwise, we’re talking about one of the “seven deadly sins” – “vainglory,” or vanity. The movie’s the poorer for it.I have to say, as with “Fireproof,” I went along with this for a bit, connected with the messages. As the father of a tweenager, I appreciate a movie that suggests strategies for keeping girls from falling in with a right or wrong boy too early. Then Kendrick’s character turns a little shrill, the myopia shows through. The movie reaches a climax, and goes on and on for another half hour for a tacked-on EXTRA climax. They should workshop their scripts.Still, it’s been a good year for faith-based films. No, the Christian cops in Memphis drama “The Grace Card” didn’t show us much. They hired “names,” but with that script, that didn’t pay off. But “Soul Surfer” found an audience. “The Fifth Quarter” had more lump in the throat moments than “Facing the Giants” ever did. The faith audience found “The Help,” even if it avoided Vera Farmiga’s edgier (subject, language, etc.) “Higher Ground,” which attempted a serious exploration of faith, and losing it.With the church effort in pre-sales, “Courageous” could be another solid performer for Sherwood. But if “Courageous” doesn’t hit that “Fireproof” mark, it won’t be because the message, the church outreach, etc. didn’t pay off. The writing isn’t quite there (several scenes are eye-rollers) and the performances aren’t compelling enough to sell it.