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Left Behind | Review

Growing Pains: Armstrong’s Re-hash of Christian Agenda Hardly Rapturous

Left Behind PosterThe end of times is here again with Left Behind, heralded by the presence of Nicolas Cage as a faithless pilot, sputtering about in the continued Humpty Dumpty phase of his grimacing career. For those who don’t know, this is the first chapter in a series of books by Timothy LaHaye, the evangelical Christian author, and was initially made into a cheapie film back in 2000 starring scion of all things ‘common sensical,’ Kirk Cameron. Time and greater talents were unable to aid the material in any discernable sense, however. This latest attempt was helmed by Vic Armstrong (a stunt man whose last notable directorial feature was the 1993 Dolph Lundren film, Army of One), and it seems this type of ideological fantasy is unable to divorce itself from floundering in skimpy productions that compromise technical integrity in favor of its belabored, regressive views.

On a trip home to visit her parents, Chloe Steele (Cassi Thomas) is immediately dismayed to find that her father, Rayford Steele (Nicolas Cage), a pilot, has been called in to work that weekend to fly a plane to London. Chloe seems to have little interest in staying behind only to hang out with her mom, Irene (Lea Thompson), who has recently and rather noisily found Jesus. But since Chloe’s trip was to be a secret, she can hardly blame her father for not planning accordingly. Attempting to accost him before his flight, Chloe spies him in close proximity with sexy flight attendant Hattie (Nicky Durham). Confronting her father, it seems Irene’s religion has taken its toll on another relationship as well. But her father’s infidelity is quickly mitigated by her chance meeting and heavy flirtation with noted investigative journalist Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murray). While Buck goes off with Pa to London, Chloe returns to the discomfort of her childhood home. But when she takes her little brother to the mall, suddenly all the children and self-righteously born again people disappear, leaving behind their clothes and all other belongings. They’ve been called to heaven, it seems, and those ole’ sinners will be left behind to contend with the apocalypse.

From its opening moments, the tinny strumming of Jack Lenz’s score irreparably places Left Behind in a Hallmark realm. Oddly enough, the film is about as technically on-par with the recent embarrassment of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged trilogy, another ideological zealot that was grimly and smugly determined to announce certain superiority over those have-nots within a sloppy paradigm.

Cage, as you might have figured out, is not usurping Kirk Cameron, those duties belonging to “One Tree Hill” alum Chad Michael Murray. Returning screenwriters Paul Lalonde and John Patus attempt to resurrect this over baked material with a bit less of the god speak than one would think, casting little judgment over the non-believers frequenting its cast (though, to be fair, these are people that are meant to survive through many more tribulations to comes, so if given the time and money, the same gobbledygook will spill out of their maws as the easily won over Cage is here, trying to convince his flight attendant mistress she better find god in the cockpit, and quick).

For a film concerning the beginning of the end of times, Left Behind sure is bereft of any kind of tension. Instead, there’s only an aura of inevitability, all these damned souls are simply reaping what they’ve sown. And so, there’s little by way of character development in a crew of folks that won’t yet have the chance to be redeemed. Instead, nearly all of its two hour running time surrounds the bifurcated narrative of whether Cage’s sinner can land the plane safely while his daughter scrabbles around down below to lend a helping hand. Luckily, a galvanizingly awkward Lea Thompson is dispatched after one scene, forced to undergo only one overwhelmingly laughable sequence where she announces that only god could have brought her daughter home from college for the planned weekend visit. It’s a point of contention, certainly, since god isn’t also in the habit of footing the bill.

Lalonde and Patus could have helped their cause out considerably if they were willing to poke a little fun at this sanctimonious drivel. Everything is grimly determined in stark black and white. One wishes for a similar instance as seen in the Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy This is the End, wherein those left behind souls able to redeem themselves would get sucked up into the heavens via wormhole.

LaHaye has gone on record as saying this is the best film he has ever seen on the Rapture. His expectations are incredibly low, it seems, and it’s an opinion sure to sting Mr. Kirk Cameron (though one can assume this means LaHaye thinks his novel is then the best novel depicting the prophetic event). But Left Behind’s biggest crime in its grueling slog to the uneventful finish is not its recalcitrant, irrefutable attitude, but how it wastes Nicolas Cage, who gets reluctantly folded into demure, sideshow status. But it just goes to show, no one is going to be bigger than the man in charge in a picture about the man in charge.

½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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