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Movie Review: 'Left Behind'

By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- When you look up and see Nicolas Cage starring in a faith-based movie, it's at least mildly disconcerting, something like spotting a biker in church.

Christian films aren't usually headlined by major marquee names, especially A-listers with Cage's particular credits, which include a satanic role or two.

His involvement may give the film more of a fighting chance at the box office, but it also sets up expectations about moviemaking quality that do not end up being met.

1 star
(1 star out of 4)

Not that his recent track record inspires all that much confidence.

The movie in this case is Left Behind, a reboot of the straight-to-video evangelical thriller that starred Kirk Cameron and Brad Johnson in 2000, in which biblical prophecy from the Book of Revelations turns out to come true in the modern era, when God calls the innocent and those who have been saved to Heaven, while those who have not repented their sins are as described in the film's title.

Cage plays Ray Steele, a commercial airline pilot, he of little faith, struggling to reclaim control of the jet he's flying when the Rapture hits and God instantly plucks all true believers and innocent children from Earth.  All that remains are their clothes and belongings.

Instantaneously, millions of people disappear without a trace and terrifying chaos ensues: planes crash, fires break out, gridlock spreads, rioting and looting overrun towns and cities.

On his damaged plane, 30,000 feet above the ground, Steele tries to understand the incomprehensible vanishings and explain the situation to his confused crew and terrified passengers, end the panic, and somehow, despite the equipment failing and fuel getting dangerously low, save the lives of those on board, including Cameron "Buck" Williams, the famous television reporter played by Chad Michael Murray, who is pressed into service to take over as co-pilot.

Meanwhile, on the ground, Steele's daughter, Chloe, played by Cassi Thomson, searches for her young brother and her mother, who also seem to have vanished.

Left Behind is for a core churchgoing audience that has had more than the usual number of releases aimed squarely at them of late, including Noah, Heaven Is for Real, Son of God, and God's Not Dead, with Exodus: Gods and Kings, Mary, and Last Days in the Desert still to come.

Like the first version, Left Behind is based on a best-selling series of apocalyptic novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.

And while director Vic Armstrong, working from a screenplay by Paul LaLonde and John Patus, has tried to fashion the remake to accommodate more of a crossover audience, production values are deplorable and the preachiness quotient remains front and center.

It may not make any sense from a critical standpoint to accuse a film of being "preachy" when that is perhaps the point. That is, for viewers who want to be preached to, the narrative limitations and structural weaknesses of the film may not really matter.

But those limitations and weaknesses are there nonetheless.

Similarly, it may not make sense to criticize a movie for its subpar acting and ineffective dialogue if the literal leap of faith demanded by the movie renders such aesthetic considerations irrelevant.

But anyone seeking the kind of writing and performing that delivers convincing three-dimensional characters behaving persuasively should turn elsewhere.  Viewers should be prepared to bring their faith with them because the movie itself, judged on its artistic merits, will not be inspiring any.

This film will be, in the eyes of its intended viewers, based on a true story that hasn't happened yet.

As for Cage, he seems to be expending as much energy taking the premise with utmost sincerity as creating a fleshed-out character we can root for.

So we'll prophesize 1 star out of 4. The problem with Left Behind is that the title explains exactly what happened to the film's production values along the way.

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