A movie about the rapture starring Nicolas Cage should be
wackier than “Left Behind.” It should have more smoldering panic bursting into
full-blown freak-outs. It should have more passion, more intensity. It should have
Yes, Cage’s howl-inducing remake of ‘The Wicker Man” from
2006 actually feels like a legitimately good time compared to this dull groaner
about the end times. It’s a remake too: a version of “Left Behind” starring
Kirk Cameron quickly came and went from theaters in 2001, followed by a couple
of straight-to-DVD sequels. All are based on the apocalyptic novels by Jerry B.
Jenkins and Tim LaHaye.
Christian readers and audiences are the base here, but it’s
hard to imagine that this incarnation of the story will persuade anyone else to
find the Lord unless they’re sitting in the theater praying for the
dialogue or special effects to improve. This is
essentially an “Airport” movie with an Evangelical spin, but it lacks the
self-awareness to turn such a wild concept into a guilty pleasure.
Director Vic Armstrong, a longtime stuntman making only his
second feature (and his first in a couple of decades), had a larger budget than
the original's, and a more established star in the lead. None of
that shows up on screen. The "big" set pieces look small and chintzy, the
lighting is hard and flat, and the pacing is a monotonous back-and-forth between
an airplane in the skies across the Atlantic and the chaos on the ground below.
But the more serious disappointment comes from Cage’s
performance. As the awesomely named Rayford Steele, a philandering airline
pilot who sees the light as the end is nigh, Cage needed to bring the
wild-eyed, full-bore crazy. This has been his bread and butter of late, and
it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable career shift. Instead, he’s oddly inert as the movie's voice of reason. Looking distractingly rubbery with a helmet of fake, dark
hair, he seems to have been Photoshopped into the film. His presence is so
strangely awkward and unconvincing.
Then again, the script from Paul Lalonde (who also produced
the original “Left Behind” movies) and John Patus doesn’t exactly give him or the rest of the cast much to work with. It’s full of flat character types and
blandly expository dialogue. At the film’s start, Rayford’s daughter, Chloe (the perky
Cassi Thomson), has come home from college for the weekend for her dad’s
birthday. But Rayford got a last-minute assignment to fly from New York to
London overnight, which will keep him away all that time. At least that’s what
he told his wife Irene (Lea Thompson), who’s no fun anymore now that she’s
found Jesus and is urging everyone around her to do the same. (The camera lingers as
Irene tosses her gardening gloves on top of her ever-present Bible.) His real
plan is to seduce a hot, blonde flight attendant (Nicky Whelan) over the
weekend, beginning with prime tickets to see U2.
This is actually a vaguely intriguing premise: What happens
to a marriage when one spouse undergoes a religious conversion and the other
does not? It seems similar to what happens when one spouse gets sober and the
other keeps drinking. What sort of wedge does this create? How does the family
survive? But these aren’t the questions “Left Behind” cares to ponder. Armageddon is on the horizon.
Anyway, Chloe and her dad have a brief, stilted conversation
in the airport waiting area between her arrival and his departure. Being the
skeptic that she is, she also has a confrontation about religion with a woman
who’s just bought a book about God at the bookstore. Chloe also finds time for
a long chat with hunky, hotshot TV news correspondent Buck Williams, who happens
to be a passenger on Rayford’s flight to London. (Chad Michael Murray takes
over the role Cameron played in the original. I’d say that’s an improvement.) There's a lot of sitting around and talking in “Left Behind.”
But then! Out of nowhere, God starts calling the pure of
heart to heaven: children, mostly, but also people who have the words BIBLE
STUDY written in their calendars in big capital letters. At first, no one realizes this
is God’s doing. People just disappear, leaving their clothes and
belongings in a pile where they once stood, including Chloe’s little brother and
(of course) her mom.
Pandemonium ensues as millions go missing worldwide–or at
least, implied pandemonium. This includes a school bus driving off an overpass
and a small plane crashing into a shopping mall parking lot. There is zero
finesse to these supposedly dramatic images. Mostly, Armstrong gives us a lot
of people running around, flailing their hands in the air.
Meanwhile, up in the sky, folks start disappearing, too–including a flight attendant and Rayford’s second-in-command. (Guess this means
God really is his co-pilot.) The barely sketched-out passengers in first class
start panicking and bickering, including a Texas businessman, an Asian
conspiracy theorist and a drugged-up heiress. Former “American Idol” winner
Jordin Sparks fares poorly as a paranoid, unstable mom who somehow smuggled a
handgun on the plane. Worst of all is the consistent yammering between
a kindly Muslim and a surly little person. The movie cuts to them repeatedly
for comic relief, but it’s painfully unfunny every time.
“Left Behind” finally edges toward an enjoyable level of
insanity as it reaches its conclusion. I wouldn’t dream of giving away
the details–mysterious ways, and all–but I will say that it involves the
petite Chloe driving a steamroller in the dead of night on a deserted stretch
of highway that’s under construction.
Still, for a movie that spells everything out, it’s unclear
why God chose this particular moment to inflict his wrath upon the masses. Was it because Rayford tried to forsake his wedding vows with a flirty flight attendant at a
U2 show? Still, if you’re a true believer, it’s a beautiful day.