Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Left Behind: The Movie

And now the big one! Left Behind is that rarest of rare things - a Christian movie that almost went mainstream. It even made it to cinema screens! Wow! Good for them. Of course, it vanished from those same screens pretty quickly...

Produced by Cloud Ten Pictures, Left Behind is based on the bestselling novel of the same name. I've read the book, and can confirm the movie is... ahem, faithful. I can also confirm that the movie is a big stinking pile of crap from start to finish.

It's bigger in scale than Cloud Ten's other films (like Deceived), and has a much bigger budget (and production values). Clearly, they were pulling out all the proverbial stops on this one. If only they'd spent some of their budget on a decent script.

Left Behind tells the story of the Rapture, an alleged Biblically-predicted event that will herald the onset of the Last Days. Supposedly, all the faithful Christians will vanish from the planet, leaving the nonbelievers to face seven years of Tribulation under the rule of the AntiChrist.

The authors of the novel, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, asked a simple question: what if the Rapture happened in our time (or the near future)? The book, and now the film, looks at the events leading up to the Rapture, and how the world copes afterward. Not a bad premise for a story, but if you want to convince unbelievers you have to have good execution.

(Warning: Spoiler Alert...)

The story starts in the Middle East, with plucky reporter Buck Williams (yes, his name is Buck, you may now laugh) covering a special secret formula called Eden (keep laughing) that allows crops to grow in the desert. Eden's creator, Dr. Rosenzweig(Colin Fox), says he will only give the formula to those who will work to create peace for Israel. Peace doesn't come right away, because all of a sudden a million jet fighters descend upon the country in a surprise sneak attack. For some reason, the jets waste missiles firing at Buck(played by Left Behind II's Kirk Cameron) and Rosenzweig, who are really just a couple of guys in the desert. Are they really worth missiles that could be used on a military target? Probably not, but it does add a pinch of excitement. All the planes mysteriously explode over Israel, without Israel firing a shot. What, Buck wonders, was that all about?

Across the world, airline pilot Rayford Steele (yes, his name is Steele, you may laugh again) prepares to leave for work, even though he will miss his son Tom's birthday party. He does this to avoid his wife, who has gone all Christian on him. His daughter Chloe (Left Behind II's Janaya Stephens) asks why he won't at least pretend to take an interest in Mom's preaching the way she does, but Ray (Left Behind II's Brad Johnson) doesn't want to deal with that God stuff. Guess he's not gettin' raptured. Dialogue between sister and brother Steele also reveals who is rapture-ready: Chloe - "You always do as you're told?" Tom - "Yeah. You should try it sometime."

Meanwhile, in a sinister English castle that looks a lot like Casa Loma, two banker dudes and their buddy Nicolae Carpathia(Left Behind II's Gordon Currie) scheme and plot. It seems the banker dudes have set up Nicky Carpathia to take over as head of the United Nations. Seems like somebody's looking to take over the world... When Nicky Carp leaves the room, the bankers discuss an employee named Dirk Burton(a buddy of Buck's) who is trying to bust their scheme wide open. "I'd say that Mr. Burton will have to sacrifice his pension... and his health benefits." Bwa-ha-ha, aren't they evil?

Buck Williams boards a plane to London to follow up on something his buddy Dirk told him. He talks to Hattie(Left Behind II's Chelsea Noble), a stewardess whom he'd helped land a job at the United Nations. And guess what? The plane just happens to be the one that Ray Steele is piloting! Will those three become enmeshed in the dramatic events soon to follow?

What's more, Ray's been flirting with Hattie, big time! Nope, he's definitely not getttin' raptured. Of course, the novel authors and film writers could have been even more daring - Ray could have been having an actual affair with Hattie, with sex and everything - but this is a Christian production and they don't do that sort of thing.

Finally, somewhere over the Atlantic, the event we've all been waiting for... THE RAPTURE!!! Was there some great big expensive special effects sequence showing millions of Christians worldwide vanishing into the sky? Nope. No effects shots, not even a lousy in-camera trick. The raptured folks are just gone.

In spite of the disappointing lack of effects, the big event is still handled well. We start small, with the people on the plane realizing a bunch of people are missing. It is truly amazing how many devout Christians there are on that plane just then! All that remains of them are their clothes, jewellery, and of course crucifixes.

Next we turn to Chloe, who runs afoul of a traffic snarl caused by raptured drivers. Pretty soon, we learn the event is worldwide. Panic! Horror! Despair! Oh my. All flights are grounded, but Ray agrees to help Buck get back to New York by helping him find a pilot for hire. Then Ray rushes home and finds his wife and son are gone, so he starts reading his wife's Bible. Chloe comes home and starts to cry, and the acting goes from bad to cringe-worthy.

The bad guy bankers get another scene, and the bad acting and bad dialogue collide. When discussing how they can use this worldwide event ot their advantage, one of them says: "Never wait for opportunity to knock. Yank open the door and drag it screaming and kicking inside."

But that's nowhere near as bad as my favourite scene from the whole movie, the scene where Ray's wife's pastor sits alone in his church, musing about why he wasn't taken. Honestly, you have to see it to understand how truly bad and unintentionally hilarious it is. "What a fraud I am," Pastor Bruce Barnes says. "I'm living a lie... I'm living a lie." It seems that Brucie didn't really believe his own message, which conveniently leaves one guy on Earth who can supply necessary exposition. Ray finds him, they both get Saved, and then Ray heads out to Save Chloe. He also tries to save Hattie, who drops by for some more flirting. Ray doesn't want a sinful relationship, and Hattie doesn't want God, so that's it for those two.

Buck meets a CIA guy in Chicago, a guy his buddy Dirk contacted. They figure out that the evil bankers are going to bankrupt the UN with their buddy Nicky Carpy while simultaneously getting their hands on the Eden formula. "They're trying to control the world's food supply!" Buck gasps, but before they can bust this thing wide open, the CIA guy's car explodes. Buck would have been in the car with him, but he was busy giving a homeless lady some change. No, I'm not making that up, that's what happened. Buck, injured, goes to the only people in Chicago he trusts - the Steeles. Ray and Chloe take him to the church, where a convenient emergency centre has been set up, and the converting of Buck goes into full swing. Pastor Barnes and Ray provide Biblical explanations for everything that's going on, and Buck is convinced way too easily.

However, he doesn't quite get Saved yet. Instead, Buck heads for the UN to warn his buddy Rosenzweig and their mutual buddy Nicolae Carpathia about what the evil bankers are up to. Then, following a revelation revealing how Nicky Carpy will bring peace to the Middle East, Buck realizes all that Bible stuff was true. He ducks into the UN bathroom to get Saved, and soppy uplifting music plays to make sure we get the gravity of this moment.

The movie ends with the revelation that Nicky, not his evil banker buddies, was the AntiChrist all along. He kills the bankers and works his mind mojo on the UN, but Buck is immune because he's got Jesus now. He escapes and gets back to the Steeles in the church, where they prepare for the sequels that will prolong their acting careers. In a voiceover, Buck tells us "I don't have all the answers, but for now, faith is enough." The question is, will faith be enough for viewers.

Not if they're not already Christians. I can't see any non-believers being converted by this movie, let alone enjoying it on the level of an action blockbuster. Like the Commander Kellie video, this movie is so full of earnestness and importance and message that it forgets the cardinal rule of not sucking. When the acting is at its best, it is soap opera melodrama. And when it is bad, it is baaaaddd. How bad? Christian movie bad. There's no other word for it. Director Vic Sarin has no idea how to build suspense or stage drama, and the best you can say for the screenwriters is that they successfully condensed the novel into a 95 minute film.

One glaring omission is why God is doing this to humanity. Sure, the Rapture happens to spare the faithful from the horrors of the Tribulation before Jesus returns to set everything right, but that doesn't explain why God planned it that way. Sure, it's "in the Bible", but so what? The big picture makes no sense to me, and Left Behind(the book and the movie) does not provide enlightenment.

"What does it matter what we think we know?" Buck asks in a voiceover at the beginning. "In the end, there's no denying the truth." And the truth is, this movie is just plain awful. Watch it only if you want a mild chuckle.

Likely To Convert - 0
Production Values - 7
Acting/Direction - 3
Likely To Be Sat Through - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 9
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

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