Nicolas Cage as Rayford Steele
Chad Michael Murray as Cameron “Buck” Williams
Cassi Thomson as Chloe Steele
Nicky Whelan as Hattie Durham
Gary Grubbs as Dennis
Alec Rayme as Hassid
Martin Klebba as Melvin Weir
William Ragsdale as Chris Smith
Lance E. Nichols as Bruce Barnes
Lea Thompson as Irene Steele
Major Dodson as Raymie Steele
Jordin Sparks as Shasta Carvell
Directed by Vic Armstrong
I’ll be honest, I don’t really know whether there is Heaven or not, but I am now relatively certain there is a Hell and it is a darkened theater with no doors showing “Left Behind” on a loop for eternity. The sheer ineptness on display–from the ham-handed dialogue to the dullness of the plot itself to the way scenes are slapped together–is staggering to behold.
Writer-producer Paul Lalonde’s second bite at the “Left Behind” apple has pretty much all of the problems the last version did plus a few new ones as it trades in much of the go-go plot of the original novel for something more down-to-Earth, sacrificing any tension it could possibly have as a result. Those changes combined with almost uniformly bad delivery of almost uniformly bad dialogue results in something which will please neither fans, newcomers or really anyone gifted with the ability to see or hear.
For those unfamiliar with the series, “Left Behind” tells the story of the end-times through the view of a specific interpretation of Biblical verse which lays out a particular series of events beginning with the Rapture and going all the way up to the actual final battle with the Anti-Christ, complete with mortars and rockets with a starring role for Jesus.
The new iteration has left out much of that in order to focus more squarely on its characters (and get more out of its small budget). I’m assuming the filmmakers decided the bit where the Secretary General of the United Nations declares himself the new King of Earth after assassinating the Illuminati financiers who put him in his position was difficult to dramatize believably. Instead of encompassing the global lead up to and aftermath of the Rapture, LaLonde and company have narrowed their focus to just the books’ first third or so, introducing the series’ main characters and following them through an endless plane ride as veteran pilot Rayford Steele (Cage) tries to figure out what has just happened and get his wounded 747 back to New York before it crashes into the ocean.
It is easy to make broad generalizations, like “No one like dashing airplane captain Rayford Steele and dashing investigative journalist Buck Williams is going to be created by a writer capable of exciting or even passable characterizing. They’re meant to be fighting Nazis on the moon or capturing icebergs to drop on forest fires devastating the Las Vegas desert, or appearing in Dan Brown novels – they’re not people, they’re a veneer of characterization stretched over a skeleton of over-the-top bravado.” It’s easy to make those kinds of generalizations because stuff like “Left Behind” keeps doing it, and when forced to actually stop doing manly things and sit around and talk about their inner turmoil it becomes painfully, painfully obvious what their limitations are.
It doesn’t help that the script by LaLonde and Michael Walker only has two things on its mind–believing in God or not believing in God–and only a couple of things to say about either of those thoughts. It then repeats continually since its plot about an airplane flying around in the sky and the pilots’ daughter (Thomson) endlessly walking through town doesn’t offer many other options. It’s not that a film about belief can’t be interesting, but it’s going to take more than just repeating the same basic idea over and over again. It takes artistry and “Left Behind” has none and no excitement to offer in its place. Sure there are some subplots about a ticking clock as the plane runs out of fuel and a crazy lady with a gun (Sparks) who is certain her football player husband somehow abducted her daughter while they were over the middle of the Atlantic-freaking-Ocean, but hammy acting and bad direction cut the legs out of any of that. The small budget means effects somewhere on the level of “Sharknado,” which just aren’t going to be able to handle planes dropping out of the sky, combined with some astonishingly bad pacing from stuntman-turned-editor/director Vic Armstrong.
It’s not just that he keeps cutting back and forth from the plane and anything that might be called a story to Thomson’s endless pacing and some occasional moralizing which stops the film dead. The problems start far earlier in the agonizing introduction to the characters, which forces the audience to wait in an airport in nearly real-time for Steele’s plane to take off to a bouncy, poppy score which sounds like it was lifted from a bad romantic comedy. No one seems to have the least idea what kind of movie they’re making or how to make it work, leaving most of the actors struggling with dialogue so on the nose it could squash your face. Only Chad Michael Murray is able to do anything with it, managing the impressive feet of almost turning Buck into a real human being, or at least a recognizable facsimile of one. He truly puts his all into it and for no reason whatsoever. I feel worse for him than anyone else.
Actually that’s not true. I feel the worst for anyone stuck in the theater watching this thing.