* (out of 5)
October 3, 2014
Nicolas Cage as RAYFORD STEELE
Lea Thompson as IRENE STEELE
Chad Michael Murray as BUCK WILLIAMS
Nicky Whelan as HATTIE DURHAM
Cassi Thomson as CHLOE STEELE
Jordin Sparks as SHASTA CARVELL
Studio: Freestyle Releasing
Directed by: Vic Armstrong
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
What sort of bizarro world do we live in where a best-selling faith-based book is made into a movie with Kirk Cameron and fails to make a splash with mainstream audiences, and that only inspires the rights-holders to quadruple the budget and hire Nicolas Cage to reboot the series?
Sure, this may have worked 15 years ago when Cage was a $20 million movie star. But now, the actor is infamous for making a string of terrible direct-to-video movies to desperately pay down a series of bad debts and tax fees. His last wide release in theaters (not including last year’s “The Croods,” for which he provided a voice that was recorded many months before) was the monumentally disappointing and terrible “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” in 2011.
Still, knowing all this, I haven’t felt so much pity for Cage than I did while I watched him in “Left Behind.” The man looks tired, beaten down, a former shadow of his energetic on-screen persona from the 90s. It’s like watching your favorite has-been actor trying to not break a hip on “Dancing with the Stars,” only not as potentially funny.
To make matters work, this attempt at “Left Behind” apparently ignores most of the best-selling book as well as the plot from the first movie. Instead, director Vic Armstrong tries to make this an airplane thriller like Liam Neeson’s “Non-Stop” from earlier this year. However, he is clueless on how to direct tension, dialogue and action. Watching this poor attempt at thrills reminds me of my days in grass-roots independent film when a guy editing a movie in his mom’s attic produces some pretty impressive visuals in After Effects that still can’t hold a candle to a professional film with even a tiny budget.
In “Left Behind,” Cage plays a pilot who is flying over the Atlantic Ocean when the Rapture happens. All the righteous aboard his plane disappear in a blink of an eye. Meanwhile, back in New York, his estranged daughter experiences the same thing at a mall where her younger brother vanishes. She races home to find her mother also vanished. The movie devolves from any sort of message – aside from “you’ve just got to believe” – into a lot of people running around trying to figure out what’s happening.
In this sense, “Left Behind” even fails as a faith-based movie because it can barely make its own point. Even though there should be plenty of people who theoretically wouldn’t be part of this version of the Rapture who would put two and two together. However, it’s only when Cage sees someone’s wristwatch with “John 3:16” printed on the face and a stewardess’s daily planner with “Bible Study!!” written with exclamation points and underlined that he realizes what’s happening.
For the record, this is not how I think the Rapture would ever play out, mainly because it’s thrown into scripture more for apparent marketing purposes and I think God has a bigger heart than to vengefully abandoned people who didn’t join his exclusive club. However, I was hoping to see the filmmakers take some sort of stand, even if I fiercely disagreed with it.
But no, the movie pussyfoots around much of the theology that would be up for debate. Children disappear – particularly babies – but the movie is suspiciously silent on what the cut-off age would be for a child to join the Rapture. Is it just grade schoolers? Tweens? Do teenagers count? After all, I’ve met some pretty dreadful twelve-year-olds in my days.
Similarly, the movie points out this is happening all over the world, but it neglects to mention how other cultures are impacted. Did the Rapture wave pass over much of the Middle East because of the large Muslim and Jewish populations? What about Buddists in China? Or the Papua New Guinea tribes who have no contact with the outside world? It’s clear the filmmakers wants to preach about how important it is to accept Jesus (because, you know, you don’t want to be stuck in the apocalypse with only Nic Cage and Chad Michael Murray to save you), but they don’t want to step into the ever-present judgmental bear trap that surrounds most discussion of the End of Days.
But all theology aside, “Left Behind” commits an even greater sin. It’s just boring. From the opening scene which features a woman literally preaching at one of the characters in an airport to long, drawn-out discussions on the plane that are sometimes meant to be funny but other times meant to be deadly serious, this film has some of the most cringe-worthy dialogue I’ve seen all year. And I saw “The Identical” a month ago to reset that barometer.
Other essential plot and story elements make no sense whatsoever. For example, apparently most of the cellular satellites are devout Christians because they seem to disappear when all the righteous people do… that is, until it’s absolutely necessary for the characters to use a cell phone, complete with real-time GPS tracking and compass apps.
However, one of the worst parts of the film is the dreadful soundtrack. Aside from your standard moany Christian rock ballad accompanying the confusing emotional climax, the first half of the film has a score that would have sounded cheesy in a made-for-TV movie from the 1980s.
So much about “Left Behind” is terrible. It’s preachy, it’s dull, the characters are one-dimensional and no one acts remotely realistically. In the end, “Left Behind” scares me for the End of Days because it’s the most boring version of the Rapture I could have ever imagined.