October 03, 2014

Left Behind

half

A movie review by James Berardinelli



Left Behind

THRILLER:

United States, 2014

U.S. Release Date:

2014-10-03

Running Length:

1:50

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Disaster images)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Nicolas Cage, Chad Michael Murray, Cassi Thomson, Nicky Whelan, Lea Thompson, Jordin Sparks

Director:

Vic Armstrong

Screenplay:

Paul Lalonde and John Patus, based on the novel by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye

Cinematography:

Jack N. Green

Music:

Jack Lenz

U.S. Distributor:

Freestyle Releasing

Subtitles:

none


There's no "rule" determining that religion-oriented movies are necessarily poorly made. Indeed, there are examples aplenty of serious minded, reverent motion pictures that work not only for pious viewers but for those with a secular outlook. The Passion of the Christ is an example and it's by no means the only one. But then along comes something like Left Behind... Not only is this an amateurish travesty combining fundamentalist Christian eschatology with disaster movie b.s., but it's plodding and tedious.

The Left Behind novels have cultivated a sizeable and passionate following, as is often the case with any long-running, successful series. 13 years ago, Left Behind was brought to the screen in a cheap, cheesy adaptation that starred ex-"Growing Pains" star Kirk Cameron. Now, more than a decade later, director Vic Armstrong has chosen to go the remake route, bringing on board Nicolas "I'll Star in Anything as Long as I Get Paid" Cage. As incredible as it may sound, Armstrong has moved forward with a worse screenplay, cheaper set design, and less polished acting. In a strange way, however, this is less like a remake of the original Left Behind than a revival of the old Airport franchise.

One thing that differentiates Left Behind from the garden variety disaster film is that it feels the constant need to remind viewers that this was made by evangelical Christians. To that end, we get lots of preaching and Bible verse quoting. Consider also the "special" effects, which look like they could have been designed using a Commodore 64. (There is at least one big explosion to make all the Michael Bay fans happy.)

Before mentioning anything about the plot, it's necessary to understand the End Times theology in play here. First comes the Rapture, the event during which all true believers in Christ will be bodily assumed into heaven, leaving Earth to the unsaved. Next comes the Tribulation, in which mankind will be forced to endure a kind of purification by fire: the grueling and torturous seven-year reign of the Anti-Christ. Finally, Christ will return to judge the world, and life on Earth as we know it will cease to exist. Left Behind is really only concerned with The Rapture and the wave of mass confusion and bad dialogue that results when a large number of people suddenly vanish like Obi-Wan Kenobi at the business end of Darth Vader's lightsaber.

The story, such as it is, focuses on a father, Rayford Steele (Nicolas Cage), and his adult daughter, Chloe (Cassi Thomson). On the day in question, Chloe has come home for her father's birthday, but Rayford, a pilot, has been called into work. When she visits him at JFK airport, Chloe sees something that leads her to suspect her father may be engaging in a fling with flight attendant Hattie Durham (Nicky Whelan). She also has a "meet cute" with hunky TV investigative reporter Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murray), who's going on her father's flight. The Rapture occurs while the plane is in the air. There's panic in the aisles and Buck comes to Rayford's aid when he needs help regaining control of the plane and the passengers. Meanwhile, on the ground, Chloe freaks out when her brother disappears during an embrace and her devout mother (Lea Thompson) is nowhere to be found. By the end of the film, our previously non-believing heroes have figured out that Mom was right all along and God's behind it. Personally, I like an alternative explanation proposed by one of the passengers: alien abduction.

There was a time when I was convinced no actor could fall farther than Marlon Brando. Superman was bad enough but The Island of Doctor Moreau? With this appearance, however, Nicolas Cage has surpassed him. It's hard to believe that an Oscar-winning actor could agree to front a production like this regardless of how badly he needs the money. And Cage clearly doesn't care about the material. "Sleepwalking" would be a kind descriptor. He acts down to the level of the rest of the cast, which essentially means he pretends he's a bad high school stage show. His delivery of dialogue is just as cringe-worthy as that of his co-stars and his mugging for the camera is just as unprofessional. The next logical progression for Cage after this is to appear on next season's edition of Dancing with the Stars.

Back in July, I felt sure no 2014 release would eclipse Transformers: Age of Extinction for the distinction of the year's worst film. I was wrong. Regardless of whether you're secular or spiritual, Left Behind's title offers the best option of how to treat it.

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