(US - 2014)
Directed by Vic Armstrong. Written by Paul Lalonde and John Patus. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Chad Michael Murray, Cassi Thomson, Nicky Whelan, Jordin Sparks, Lea Thompson, Gary Grubbs, Martin Klebba, Georgina Rawlings, Quinton Aaron, William Ragsdale, Alec Rayme, Lolo Jones, Lance E. Nichols, Han Soto, Stephanie Honore, Major Dodson. (PG-13, 110 mins)
Since the surprise success of THE OMEGA CODE back in 1999, the release of grass-roots, evangelical, faith-based titles has been a semi-regular occurrence in American multiplexes. Usually released with little or no secular fanfare, these titles are heavily promoted through Christian and right-wing media outlets and many congregations bus their members to the theater in what's essentially a big-screen sermon. The existence of these films, often referred to secular smartasses as "faithsploitation" or "Christsploitation," isn't a bad thing in and of itself. Like any genre, they have a target audience and there's even been some mainstream crossover with the likes of SOUL SURFER (2011) and HEAVEN IS FOR REAL (2014). These films preach to the converted and their audiences are happy as long as they hear the message they came to hear. And from a working actor standpoint, they keep C-listers and past-their-prime character actors like Kevin Sorbo, John Schneider, Lee Majors, Eric Roberts, Dean Cain, Bruce Davison, Craig Sheffer, and James Remar employed. The problem with these films is that they're almost always cheap and shoddy-looking, almost as if the creative forces behind them know that it doesn't matter anyway because the message is the important thing. Costly religious films were made in the Cecil B. DeMille days of old but there's no need for that level of expense and craftsmanship in these kinds of modern faithsploitation offerings where you can just imagine the producers saying "Whatever, that's as good as it needs to be." They know it won't matter. The movie gets released, the congregation says it's uplifting and has a positive message, and Kevin Sorbo's kids eat.
LEFT BEHIND was an apocalyptic look at the End Times and spawned two sequels, LEFT BEHIND II: TRIBULATION FORCE (2002), and LEFT BEHIND: WORLD AT WAR (2005). From the moment it was announced, there was an incredulous sense that the reboot of LEFT BEHIND was some kind of elaborate prank. But as time went on and updates were routinely posted by internet news outlets, and as snippets of scenes and a trailer eventually made their way online, it became a painful reality that, yes, there's a new LEFT BEHIND. And somehow, it stars Academy Award winner and former actor Nicolas Cage.
B-grade actioners that go straight to VOD, Cage has still been steadily employed even as his big-screen career has taken a nosedive. For an actor in a major career lull, the faithsploitation genre is usually a desperate last resort, something that only requires a couple of days' work and they get their check and move on to the next job. Cage is a willing participant in this and seems unaware of the amateur-night fiasco around him. Everything about LEFT BEHIND '14 screams "sub-Lifetime" in its standards of filmmaking, from the hilariously unconvincing job Baton Rouge does passing itself off as NYC to the intrusive score that vacillates between soaring, inspirational, would-be John Williams to sax-heavy smooth jazz at ludicrously inappropriate moments. It's the kind of film where complete strangers break out into intense theological debates at random moments as screenwriters Paul Lalonde and John Patus, who wrote the original LEFT BEHIND, aggressively shoehorn their talking points into the already-stilted dialogue.
intro onto a screen in front of the actors, LEFT BEHIND might make you a believer in the use of practical miniatures like they used to do.
STRIKE COMMANDO 2 of his career, but it's obviously too early to make that call) and BACK TO THE FUTURE's Thompson: you get 2007 AMERICAN IDOL winner Jordin Sparks, who also sings the closing credits song, blaming the event on her estranged pro quarterback husband; PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN's Martin Klebba as a surly little person with a huge chip on his shoulder; Olympic athlete and DANCING WITH THE STARS contestant Lolo Jones; folksy character actor Gary Grubbs; and Quinton Aaron, who you probably haven't thought of since THE BLIND SIDE. But the real story here is the once-unstoppable Nicolas Cage, a daring actor who blazed trails and lived on the edge but who's now teetered off beyond self-parody and past the point of no return with LEFT BEHIND. Earlier this year, JOE looked like it might revitalize his stagnant career until Lionsgate buried it. It's still a terrific film and it was his best performance in years, but hey, what's the point when he's already got this lined up? I get that actors need to work, but Cage can't possibly need the money badly enough to humiliate himself in an endeavor this beneath him. But maybe it's not beneath him. He's fully self-aware and has become his own punchline, a trained monkey in a carnival of "Nic Cage Freaks Out!" YouTube clips. At what point does someone close to him stage an intervention? This is a film that looks positively embarrassing on the big screen, from its terrible visual effects to the clunky dialogue forced on its actors. Even someone like Chad Michael Murray, the former ONE TREE HILL teen idol and current journeyman actor who very likely has no Oscars in his future, has to know this is garbage, and he's actually been in something as nonsensical as the cartographically-challenged THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT 2: GHOSTS OF GEORGIA. The characters in LEFT BEHIND are nothing more than puppets mouthing the message, and it doesn't matter how awkwardly such proclamations are worked in as long as the audience hears them. Films like this have no subtlely or nuance, and while LEFT BEHIND '14 tones down the proselytizing a bit in order to appeal to the commercial audience they presume Cage will draw by turning it into AIRPORT '14: THE RAPTURE, that only heightens the cynicism of the whole thing. In short, there is no reason for this film to exist, and there's no excuse for Cage agreeing to be in it.