Left Behind again

October 2, 2014

Left Behind

70 Cast: Nicolas Cage, Chad Michael Murray, Cassi Thomson, Lea Thompson, Nicky Whelan, Quinton Aaron, Jordin Sparks, Martin Klebba, William Ragsdale

Director: Vic Armstrong

Rating: PG-13, for some thematic elements, violence/peril and brief drug content.

Running Time: 110 minutes

By Dan Lybarger for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and blood, dirt & angels

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Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ Left Behind novels have sold prolifically and inspired a popular straight-to-DVD series starring former Growing Pains star Kirk Cameron. By appealing specifically to the evangelical market, the makers of these series have created something that plays well inside the walls of a church but doesn’t resonate well outside its walls.

In order to reach a wider audience, a new, more expensive adaptation of the first rapture-theme novel opens today with Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage as the leading man. It’s directed by veteran stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and features a relatively generous budget of $15 million.

That said, the new film paints a picture of Armageddon that more closely resembles a low rent ’70s Airport-style disaster movie than a global cataclysm.

Instead of guessing which screen legend will come to a grisly end as one would do in an old Irwin Allen movie, viewers instead have to figure out which somewhat recognizable performer will be FedExed to Heaven. Allen was hardly a master filmmaker, but this movie is hardly suspenseful because Armstrong and screenwriters Paul Lalonde and John Patus (who worked on the previous series) practically advertise who won’t have to face tribulation.

The film follows Capt. Rayford Steele (Cage) as he prepares for a flight from New York to London. He hides is wedding ring because he’s cheating on his newly devout wife (Lea Thompson) with a shapely flight attendant (Nicky Whelan) who wears glowing red lipstick. All of this upsets Ray’s daughter Chloe (Cassi Thomson), who has flown in to the Big Apple, which looks suspiciously like Baton Rouge, to see him for his birthday. Ray, however, is taking the flight to England because he wants to treat his co-worker to a U2 show.

Ray’s passenger list includes an NFL wife (Jordin Sparks) and an intrepid reporter (Chad Michael Murray) who, unlike most journalists, doesn’t toil in obscurity. The plane also includes a stereotypical Asian math geek, a Muslim and a few pious crew members who leave nothing but their clothes when they are suddenly called.

Some of the least convincing panic in screen history ensues, with Chloe battling for her life against rioters who look like they’re warming up for a game of patty-cake while Ray has to land his CGI simulator plane despite the fact that his co-pilot is now flying far above him.

In its current form, Left Behind alternates between unintentional giggling and dull proselytizing. Armstrong is able to launch a few impressive stunts involving driverless vehicles, but he’s working with a fraction of the Hollywood cash he used to have at his disposal. It shows.

The name actors neither embarrass themselves nor salvage the tepid material. It’s tempting to snicker at Cage’s involvement, but his brother Marc Coppola is a pastor, so his reasons for doing the film may be more than financial.

Left Behind seems set in a parallel universe where danger is indicated with mellow, easy jazz and break dancers perform at airports. The film ends with a limp cover of Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” which was featured in the 1972 apocalyptic film A Thief in the Night.

The movie raises some bizarre questions:

If children get raptured, why do elderly people with dementia get left?

Why are most of the raptured white?

Is heaven filled with young nudists?

What is the age limit for automatic rapturing?

Did U2 get called up, or did Songs of Innocence disqualify them?

Over the last few years, there have been some terrific films that explore modern world Christianity in thoughtful, entertaining and positive manners. A few that quickly come to mind are the documentary Holy Rollers (a look at Christian card counters), Emilio Estevez’s The Way, the powerful French film Of Gods and Men and Steve Taylor’s Blue Like Jazz.

None of these films treat their viewers like the dimmer sheep in the flock. That’s why their sermons are more memorable.


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