I’m no expert in the Book of Revelations, but I’m pretty confident in my knowledge of the end times and the dispensationalist concept of the Rapture. Basically, everyone’s favorite deity strips all of Earth’s children naked and sucks them (along with some adults for chaperon duty apparently) up into the sky leaving the rest of humanity to face years of struggle, darkness and demonic antics. That sounds bad enough, but according to the new film Left Behind it actually gets worse.
It seems god also sucks up all of the fun, entertainment, sense of pacing and quality screenwriters.
Rayford Steele (Nicolas Cage) is an airline pilot excited for his imminent flight to London where he’ll get to attend a U2 concert with a sexy flight attendant (Nicky Whelan), and he has no intention of letting his wife and daughter ruin the occasion. Chloe (Cassi Thomson) has returned home from college for his birthday, but when Ray chooses Hattie the stewardess over his recently born-again wife Chloe realizes this is “the saddest day of her life” even though she did get to chat with a famed TV journalist named Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murray). And then the Rapture hits! [Sad trombone.]
To be clear, Left Behind is not a bad movie because of its Christian plot lines and concepts. It’s a bad movie simply because no one involved in its production cared to make a good one.
The film’s first act is devoted to character introductions and the laying of ground work showing the general disdain for bible thumpers like a random “wacko” in the airport and Ray’s wife, Irene (Lea Thompson) and for a god who allows natural disasters and tragedies. Chloe voices her rebuttal to such beliefs leaving the believers with little recourse aside from distress and a mumbled “God works in mysterious ways.” You’d be forgiven for thinking the early part of the film was actually a diatribe against faith, but rather than lay out viewpoints in search of an interesting and engaging discourse these exchanges are meant solely as black and white identifiers ‐ those who believe in god will not be in the film for much longer.
The script by Paul Lalonde and John Patus (who previously collaborated on the earlier, smaller adaptations of the book series by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye) refuses to delve into what makes a person good or bad and instead ascribes to the angle that the believers ascend to heaven regardless of their actions while the non-believers stay behind regardless of theirs. It’s a concept that would (and should) infuriate anyone trapped in this situation, but none of the survivors seems to question their predicament once they finally catch on to what’s happened.
The action ‐ and I use that term extremely loosely ‐ moves between events on Ray’s flight and Chloe’s high-energy tribulations back on the ground. The plane’s passengers become the majority of the film’s supporting characters, but curiously it’s only those in First Class that we actually meet while those in Coach are treated purely as a panicky mob. None of them are worthy of character names or moments of distinction, and it’s a trend that continues down below as the mall Chloe’s in when the Rapture hits descends into chaotic looting mere seconds after folks get zapped up into space. Clothing is still falling to the floor and people are already stealing TVs and rifling through discarded purses.
There are small action set-pieces involving Chloe’s attempts to get home and a finale where she tries to channel Joey King in White House Down, but while they’re competently staged by director Vic Armstrong (legendary stunt coordinator directing only his second feature film in 21 years) they can’t help but feel small and unexciting. That minor, small-scale feel ‐ the antithesis of what an end-of-the-world scenario should invoke ‐ carries over to the movie’s overall cheap look and design. The score is hokey, the locales aren’t convincing and the special effects are underwhelming.
It was reasonable to hope this would at least be a bad movie that was fun to watch ‐ it’s Nicolas Cage in a reboot of a religious franchise that previously starred Kirk Cameron! How is this not laughably bad fun?! ‐ but it’s just so damn dull. It’s the Book of Revelations as adapted by the teenage president of an Ohio-based Bela Tarr fan club. It just drags its way limply towards an ending that fails to wrap up a single story thread. There are a couple moments that almost merit a smile like when Hattie is a trooper through the apocalypse only to get pissy and cry when she discovers Steele is married or when all the phones inexplicably stop working after the Rapture except for when it’s really important for a call to go through. But in general this plays like an elongated opening chapter to the actual meat of a potentially interesting story.
There’s a fun and exciting movie to be made from the story of the rapture and the folks left behind to struggle and scrape to survive against evil forces, but this is not that movie. Regardless of your religious leaning (or lack thereof) there’s simply nothing here to entertain or enlighten. Hell, it’s almost enough to make you a believer just to avoid the humdrum doldrums that so many of us apparently have to look forward to.
The Upside: There are only eleven more books in the series?
The Downside: Unrelentingly dull; cheap look and feel; one dimensional characters; no self-contained story to justify a film; Nicolas Cage is wasted here; not even entertainingly bad
On the Side: The director of the 2000 adaptation starring Kirk Cameron was also directed by a man named Vic.