Movie review: Left Behind is just God-awful

Post-rapture reboot just preaches to the choir.

“Judge not, that ye not be judged.”

Surely there’s some special dispensation for film critics, right?

Left Behind, a post-Rapture reboot (On A Plane!) of the popular Christian book and film series, crashes and burns its way to theaters this weekend.

“It’s an action thriller and the message is organic to the story,” screenwriter and producer Paul Lalonde told Film Journal International. Lalonde is one of the men behind Stoney Lake Entertainment, the indie production house behind the big-screen edition of Left Behind. He also co-founded Cloud Ten Pictures, the producers and distributors of the original 2000 Left Behind film and its two sequels. “It’s not a sermon in disguise, unlike our previous films that were preachy. But then, 90 percent of that audience was already faith-based and the movie didn’t make any effort to reach beyond that crowd. And that’s still typical.”

These sentiments are either entirely disingenuous or represent an abject failure in translating a cinematic vision into a finished product. Despite boasting a bigger budget and better production values than the previous films, 2014’s Left Behind is relentlessly on-message, completely lacking in subtlety and any honest attempt to reach beyond its core audience.

The film tells the tale of college-age cynic Chloe Steele (Cassi Thomson) and her motley family — disenchanted/straying father Ray (Nicolas Cage), über-zealous mother Irene (Lea Thompson) and adorable, innocent spazz of a kid brother Raymie (Major Dodson) — in the hours before and after the Rapture. For the uninitiated (baptism pun!), the Rapture is a coming divine event, according to fundamentalist Christians, wherein true believers are brought by God into heaven. Those left behind for whatever reason — hence the title — bear witness to the Tribulation, the seven-year shitstorm preceding Christ’s return and the final judgment.

Fun stuff, right?

Chloe is back home for her birthday, so it’s really too bad her dad, who planned a getaway with a flight attendant, got called into his job as a pilot. So she’s left to deal with her “whacko” of a mom who’s been so unbearable ever since she “drank the Kool-Aid,” but Chloe at least wants to see Pops before he leaves on a jet plane. Whilst waiting (she was already at the airport, see) she meets cute with fellow non-believer and storm-chasing disaster reporter Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murray), whom she saves from a preaching zealot that must have reminded her of her mother. He just happens to be on Ray’s flight to London.

So Raymie poofs out, in an almost-cartoonish vanish effect, mid-hug with Chloe at the mall. Him, and seemingly every (Christian-baptized) child on earth — or above it in a plane. Ditto for all the true believers. Naturally that’s going to cause some confusion, which is detailed in the second and third acts; the details aren’t too important if you’re still here, right?

So every non-believing character in Left Behind is generally unsympathetic in the least subtle of ways. Chloe’s a condescending snot, Buck is a twit who hasn’t seen God despite all the things he’s witnessed, and Ray is garbage for turning his back on a woman who fell in love with Jesus (not that we should canonize adulterers, but they laid it on a bit thick). They’re the lucky ones, though: at least they’re actually jerks. Hassid (Alec Rayme) is a mochaccino Muslim and Buck’s fellow first class passenger who, despite being the most decent character in the film, is lumped in with the rest of the leavings simply for buying the wrong brand.

Also, apparently everyone who works in air traffic control is a saint — as necessitated by the plot, at least. Conversely, with the glut of first responders still around, virtually no emergency services folks made the cut. And seriously, despite the humor, who looks at her minister, who’s still around post-Rapture, and says “Thank God you’re still here”?

Anyone excited to see Left Behind will enjoy it, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it lacks the mainstream appeal for which it had allegedly strived, and never takes a pass on pounding the pulpit. Anyone who wants to make or watch a faith-based film can do so without judgment, but don’t add Nicolas Cage and an airplane to a 110-minute sermon and try to convince people it’s an action thriller.

1.5 out of 5 stars
Rated PG-13. Directed by Vic Armstrong. Starring Nicolas Cage, Lea Thompson, Cassi Thomson, Chad Michael Murray. Now playing.

Scroll to read more Local Arts articles
Join the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected]