Based on the best-selling novel, Left Behind is the latest in an assembly line of Evangelical thrillers from Cloud Ten Pictures. Considering the success of The Omega Code, there’s a surprisingly large audience of zealots who dream of screening films with ‘spiritual value’ nationwide. And apparently, all that hard work is paying off.
Let readers be warned in advance, if you’re part of the camp which tries to catch the ‘so bad it’s good’ movies filmcritic.com cheerfully slams on a weekly basis (and I mean you, Battlefield Earth), do yourself a favor and avoid Left Behind. Even if your interest is akin to mine, approaching the entire affair as a postmodern joke, your contribution is paving the way for more of this generic, Bible-thumping crap. With this kind of marketing campaign, every dollar counts.
Having said that, I really wanted to enjoy Left Behind. The premise has all the makings of a crackerjack apocalyptic epic in the vein of Stephen King’s The Stand crossed with The Omen. If handled right, this could have been the mainstream alternative to Michael Tolkin’s chilling end-of-the-world melodrama, The Rapture.
On an international flight, half of the passengers vanish mid-air. This is not an isolated incident. Around the world, Christians have mysteriously disappeared without a trace. It seems the Book of Revelations has cracked wide open, and the newly departed are spared seven years of tribulation during the Antichrist’s rise to global power. Those who have been left behind must struggle in the ultimate battle between good and evil, which will no doubt be further documented in the inevitable string of sequels.
Don’t tell me that doesn’t sound exciting, even to heathens such as myself.
My interest abruptly waned the moment a freshly scrubbed Kirk Cameron appears on the scene as opportunistic news correspondent Buck Williams. We’re asked to buy Kirk Cameron as a hardcore journalist covering an international crisis in the Middle East? Named Buck Williams? When Buck places his camera in the middle ‘of the shit’ as bombs burst in midair, it’s difficult to shake the thought that this pathetic former star hasn’t aged a day since Growing Pains. His behavior, his goofy smile, his curly locks of hair are all exactly the same. I guess some things never change, even after you’re Born Again.
Buck pursues a conspiracy that goes all the way to the United Nations. Will he be able to warn idealistic scientist Chaim Rosenzweig (Colin Fox) that his ‘Eden formula’ which could end world hunger may land in the wrong hands? Sure enough, there’s a missing disk, a car explosion, an attempted assassination, and shifty men in black who plot Armageddon. These familiar genre requirements are as lifeless as they are predictable, shot with all the bland mushiness of late night cable television.
Indeed, Left Behind could easily be confused with less ambitious fare were it not for the preachy subplot involving the tormented pilot (Brad Johnson) of that ill-fated international flight mentioned earlier. When his wife and son disappear in the Rapture, he falls to his knees begging forgiveness. If only he had listened when Jesus was knocking on the door to his heart. It’s not long before Buck joins him as a soldier in God’s Army.
After the end credits scroll on Left Behind‘s home video release, Kirk Cameron provides a public service announcement encouraging viewers to tell everyone they know to see this movie. My only request for the Christians who happen upon this article: Don’t settle for less. Go to the Left Behind website and demand quality scripts which address your theological concerns.
Of course, the built-in audience will see these movies whether or not they receive a critical bitch slap. After an initial release on video to spread word of mouth, Left Behind has found its way into the 20 top grossing theatrical releases during the week it opened nationwide. Let’s hear it for the Almighty Buck.