Saturday, November 3, 2012

Left Behind II: Tribulation Force

Back in March of 2012, Kirk Cameron returned from irrelevance to denounce the gay lifestyle as being 'detrimental to civilization' or some such rubbish. And, he claims he spoke those words out of love! That whacky guy. You never know which foot he's going to stick in his mouth next.

Just after he made those comments, I decided the time was right to look at some of his past work on God's behalf. I'd already reviewed Left Behind: The Movie, so I moved on to the blockbusting direct-to-video sequel, Left Behind II: Tribulation Force.

And then I deleted my review. It was loaded with images that may or may not have been copyrighted, and I was taking no chances. I liked my review, though, and I plan to get around to the third movie, Left Behind: World At War, at some point, so here it is once more.

Based on the second novel in Tim Lahaye/Jerry B. Jenkins Left Behind series, T-Force brings us back to the days following the Rapture. One week has passed since the events of the first movie; plucky reporter Buck Williams (Kirk Cameron) provides necessary exposition in the form of a news broadcast, bringing the audience back up to speed.

Things have been going really well for Nicholae Carpathia(Gordon Currie), otherwise known as the Antichrist; he's become the Secretary General of the United Nations. The rest of the UN want to make him the leader of the world - they practically beg him to do it! They also want a one-world currency, all according to Nicky's plans.

And according to prophecy; all this stuff is in the Bible, after all, which leaves the newly-formed Tribulation Force (Buck, Pastor Bruce Barns(Clarence Gilyard), Ray & Chloe Steele) in a bit of a quandary. "We can't change the events of the Bible," Bruce says when Chloe asks how they can stop Nicky-boy. When she asks what they can do, Bruce replies: "Fight him." Isn't that like trying to stop him...?

The plot involves two important tidbits: 1, the Wailing Wall has been "shut down" due to the mysterious deaths of three men; and 2, Rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah is going to go on global television (GNN) to unveil 'the single biggest piece of news in history." Bruce Barns says the deaths at the Wall might have been due to the Two Witnesses, prophesied to come from Heaven during the Last Days to Preach the Word and shoot "fire from Heaven" at people they don't like. Buck decides to go to Jerusalem to confirm the presence of the Witnesses, because apparently Bruce's word and the Bible's Word isn't good enough. This does not sit well with Chloe(Janaya Stephens), whom the screenwriters have chosen to portray as a bratty teen (even though she's in her 20s). When she asks why someone else can't go instead, Buck replies, "Because I don't trust anybody else to stick to our mission." He appears blissfully unaware that he has just insulted everyone in the room. Not to worry; they didn't notice the put-down, either.

Further plans are drawn up, and Chloe pouts for all she's worth. Bruce thinks that Ray Steele(Brad Johnson) should go for the job of pilot for Carpathia. Ray disagrees strenuously; "We're talking about the AntiChrist here!" he says with a straight face. "We need the information to save souls, Ray!" Bruce replies with an even straighter face. Ray is forced to admit he's been out-faced, so he agrees.

In spite of the immediacy of these plans, the script calls for some filler to throw off the pace. Bruce leads a church service to explain the Rapture and save souls. One guy rolls his eyes and asks, "So what's gonna happen?" That guy was played by none other than The Daily Show's Jason Jones! This unexpected cameo was, for me, the most exciting moment in the film.

The second and much longer bit of filler involves Chloe, Buck, and a misunderstanding so contrived that even an 80s sitcom wouldn't touch it. Chloe, who has the hots for Bucky, goes to Buck's place and finds his assistant Ivy Gold(Krista Bridges) there instead. Ivy has an engagement ring on her finger, and Chloe jumps feet-first into the wrong conclusion. Being the grown up that she is, Chloe gives Buck the silent treatment and hangs up on him when he calls. It's not until Ray tricks her into talking to Buck that she realizes she put two and two together and got moron. Seriously, what does Buck see in her? And why does this movie waste so much time on this bit of dumbassery?

Screenwriters' Paul Lalonde and John Patus must have realized they couldn't do anything better with Chloe's character, either. When they finally get back to the plot, Chloe gets left behind (pun intended).

Speaking of that plot, Ray becomes Nick's pilot and Buck strikes a deal with His Nickyness to be his media guy. Ray goes to his ex-flirt Hattie Durham (Chelsea Noble) and convinces her to get him the job. It's not an easy sell - she's still mad about the affair they didn't have, and concerned about his status as a 'Bible thumper.' Ray lies his ass off, and manages to win her over.

This scene is, incidentally, Chelsea's only real appearance in the movie (apart from a couple of shots of her standing behind Nicholae). And yet, she gets top billing. And, in the making of featurette in the DVD's extras, she says she did the film because of the "great script."

Buck's meeting with Nick Carpathia is a lot less interesting. Paul and John don't write it so much as order up dialogue from a random clichee generator. Nicky wants Buck to be his media guy "because people trust you." Buck actually says, "And if I refuse?" Nick chuckles good-naturedly and says, "I don't think you can." There's a similar scene between Ray and Nicky, and it is no less painful.

The third act finally arrives, and we are off to the Toronto location that looks like Israel. Ray and Buck discover that Rabbi Ben-Juda will announce that Nicholae Carpeltunnel is the Messiah of prophecy. And Buck is going to broadcast that message to the world! Oh no! Ben-Juda, Buck and Ray figure, must be under the AntiChrist's mind-mojo, and needs to be set straight. Buck convinces the brainwashed rabbi to visit the Two Witnesses so that he can "discredit them." Of course, Buck is really hoping the Two Witnesses will convince Ben-Juda that the Messiah is Jesus.

In other words, Buck achieves his goal by lying. Just like Ray did to get his pilot job. And yet, in another scene Kirk Cameron drops character and tries to convince a guy named Chris that he hasn't been living up to God's standard: 'Have you ever told a lie? So what does that make you? That's right, a liar!' Why is it not okay for the unSaved Chris to have told even one lie, yet Buck and Ray can lie all they want to further their agenda? What a mixed message!

There are so many things wrong with this film, I'm almost not sure where to start. The dialogue, first and foremost, is just as bad as the first movie's. I want to say that the acting is terrible, but remember these guys are keeping a straight face when saying clunkers like:
"I'm saying there is a God. There has to be. It's the only thing that makes sense."
"The oceans, the sunset, do you think this just happened by chance?"
"You need to put your faith and your trust in God. And you need to do it right now!"
"I think you're a wonderful guy, but I'm having a really hard time with this whole hanging-out-with-the-Devil thing."

Then we have the issue of Nicky's dialogue. The script assumes that, if Nicholae says something, it is evil. How could it not be? He's the goddamn AntiChrist! So, when Nick-O talks of forming a one-world religion based on "tolerance, harmony and peace" because "divided religions mean a divided world," viewers are meant to think he's being a real bastard. But is there anything fundamentally bad about a religion of peace and tolerance? "We cannot allow closed-minded religious fanaticism to divide the world any further," says the mind-controlled Ben-Judah. And I agree with him! But we are supposed to disagree with the above statements, simply because they come from Nicholae Carpathia. It makes me wonder what words they might put in his mouth in future installments. Kirk Cameron might insist, for instance, that the AntiChrist speak of the need for acceptance of the gay community due to their positive impact on humanity.

Left Behind II: Tribulation Force is a worthy follow-up to the original, but that's the nicest thing I can say about it. Flawed, uneven, badly scripted and poorly executed are just a few of the not-so-nice things. This movie is just another piece of Salvation propaganda; ironic, since its biggest audience is the already-Saved. Personally, I think this film stinks so badly, it might just be detrimental to civilization.

Likely To Convert - 0
Production Values - 5
Acting/Direction - 2
Likely To Be Sat Through - 2
Unintentional Hilarity - 7
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 3
Awesomeness of Jason Jones - 11!

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