May God have mercy on us all.
There are very few films as flimsy and false as Left Behind. The only thing Biblical about this clunky End of the World epic is that both the Word of the Lord, and the 16 book series created by evangelicals Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins are printed on paper. Other than that, you have to search long and hard to find anything remotely religious about this first chapter in the ongoing judgment of mankind.
According to the new Christian thinking, The Rapture will immediately lift the saved up to Heaven, while the rest of humanity will remain on Earth. There, those left behind will face seven years of unparalleled horror and terrifying tribulation while waiting to see if they can find salvation. If they do, terrific. They get a one way ticket to the good afterlife. If they don’t, it’s a date with the Antichrist and his crew (or something like that).
In the Gospels, especially Revelations, such apocalyptic claptrap comes across as wholly compelling. Even for an ancient text, the ideas and imagery stay with you. They have power and presence. But Left Behind wants to clean up and sanitize God’s wrath, giving us just enough fear to motivate us to our nearest pastor. Instead of fire and brimstone, however, it’s all false starts and bumbling.
Back in 2001, professed Bible warrior Kirk Cameron took on this material, and basically could only preach to the converted. This new attempt at drawing in the mainstream won’t work, not even with one of Messageboard Nations favorite Oscar winning check cashers in the cast.
Yep, Nicolas Cage is on hand to play nice. He doesn’t freak out, or go gonzo. Instead, he’s pilot Rayford Steele, heading out to London on his birthday. His family, including Born Again wife Irene (Back to the Future‘s Lea Thompson), son Raymie (Major Dodson), and college age daughter Chloe (Cassi Thomson) would like to celebrate, but he has other ideas — mainly, a hot tryst with stewardess Hattie Durham (Nicky Whelan) and some extramarital U2.
Hoping to surprise him on his special day, his oldest has traveled all the way from Fictional Cinematic University (FCU) to see him. Catching him at the airport making cow eyes to said fetching flight attendant, they have a confrontation. She goes home, argues with her What Would Jesus Do mother, and then takes her toe-headed brother to the mall. Seriously.
In the meantime, Rayford continues with his plan, while a series of stereotypes stretch out in First Class. They include a dwarf, an angry black woman, her angelic daughter, a kindly Muslim, a Southern drawling businessman, a freaked out drug addict, an elderly woman suffering from dementia, and so on. While macking on Hattie, a sudden “POOF” happens and some of the passengers just… disappear.
Naturally, everyone freaks out. The same thing happens to Chloe, whose baby bro becomes one of the innocents saved. While she frantically runs around fake Long Island looking for him, she witnesses a great deal of pre-Rapture proper chaos. Rayford, on the other hand, narrowly avoids a mid-air collision and must find a way to land the plane while running dangerously low on fuel.
Oh, and did we mention the know-it-all investigative reporter, Buck Williams, played by Chad Michael Murray, a journalist savvy enough to find ripe stories in the most unusual of places but completely and utterly flummoxed by something, The Rapture, that has been discussed in the media ad nauseum for the last three decades? Indeed, Left Behind is a movie that acts like Praise The Lord and the Christian television network, 3ABN, never existed. As a source of constant cash infusion, the End Days have been a Christian TV fundraising favorite, and yet no one here can figure out what’s going on. Hell, Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, and their buddies were high on weed during almost all of This is the End, and even they figured out that God was giving humanity the big demonic send-off. The people in Left Behind remain sadly perplexed.
Even worse, the filmmakers are trying to “mainstream” this material so that it will appeal to a modern moviegoer, but they do so in the most lame way possible. Instead of real scope and power, we get Irwin Allen by way of John Hagee. The whole airplane angle is pointless, since we know some of the passengers have to survive (sequels, you know…15 of them) and the solution to the landing issue comes right out of a hackneyed writer’s netbook (and no one else knew there was a new highway being built, right next to the airport???).
By giving it an action make-over, Left Behind struggles. We don’t care about the fate of these one-dimensional characters, and the F/X are amateurish and uninteresting.
Even worse, that’s all we get. No Four Horsemen. No Gabriel’s trumpet. No pestilence or plagues.
In his brilliant deconstruction of the event, Michael Tolkin’s The Rapture found a way to be visually awe-inspiring on an indie drama budget — and he only had $3 million to spend and no CGI. Here, director Vic Armstrong merely stages mayhem and then tries to capture some compelling moments. It doesn’t work. Even as we watch the poorly executed aircraft/crash sequence, we recognize the lack of funds. Clearly, almost all the money available here was spent on the cast. Even Asylum and its line of cult crappy mockbusters have better production value than this silly spectacle.
As the basis for an allegory showing how modern life is doomed toward destruction, the Bible got the goods. Look at something like Noah, or The Passion of the Christ. Just a literal retelling of Judgment Day would be enough to put at least a few butts back in the church pews. But thanks to its source, and the inability to understand what really makes Armageddon fly, Left Behind lacks both authority and authenticity.
It’s also laughably bad, indescribably stupid, and fails in its most basic motion picture function: to turn people back to God. Instead, it should be Satan and his fellow pagans who plan on adding to their number.