Left Behind (2014) Blu-ray Review: Ungodly in Every Sense of the Word

Reaching out to a target audience with a speciality motion picture is never an easy task, particularly when said target audience is intelligent or – at the very least – has expectations that scale only slightly above “public access TV production values.” First, let’s turn back the clock a bit to the original filmic adaptation of Left Behind (subtitled The Movie, in case its target audience was unable to distinguish the difference between a paperback book and a videocassette – which certainly wasn’t insulting to their intelligence in any way) from 2000 starring former teen heartthrob-turned-evangelist Kirk Cameron. Based on a best-selling book co-written by evangelical minister Tim LaHaye, the low-budget movie about the Rapture actually resulted in LaHaye suing the film’s production company due to the end-result of the tale about the end times being shockingly inferior to his own reasonably conceivable expectations for an independently-made faith-based feature.

The latter isn’t something that gets a lot of press these days (I guess there’s something about Christians suing Christians for breach of contract that could look suspiciously un-Christian in the eyes of the truly faithful), much like the entire literary genre of what has since been dubbed as “Christian fiction” itself. Christian fiction is, after all, a speciality item – and not something you can genuinely market to the masses. (Imagine what might have happened if Sony actually tried to market The Interview for North Korean audiences; who knows what might have happened then!) In 2010, the same people Rev. LaHaye had become so upset with somehow managed to reacquire the film rights to the tale once more, and production slowly went into effect on yet another big-screen version (although, for the record, the Kirk Cameron version was actually released to select cinemas after its home video debut).

This time around, it was to be different. The production values would be higher. The actors would be of a higher grade, proven to be professionally-established with non-target-specific audiences. The message itself would be deeper, thus enabling those who viewed the final product to believe in a higher power. Well, much like the original novel itself (which was the religious equivalent/forerunner of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight), all of these notions worked out much better when they were written down on paper – and those who actually paid to see the 2014 remake of Left Behind were only left thinking the people responsible for the movie must have been higher than a kite when they made it. And, after having viewed the film myself, I too must consider that possibility, as Left Behind is – as hard as it may be to conceive – even bad by the standards of the faith-based movie industry.

I can only assume it’s a matter of time before Reverend LaHaye takes everyone to court once again over this ungodly mess of a movie. But of course we’ll have to wait and see if such a thing happens (and gets any publicity). In the meantime, rather than questioning the existence of God or the possibility of a Rapture occurring, the non-believers of society are left to contend with a far stranger puzzler: Left Behind‘s bizarre casting of one Nicolas Cage. At the same time, those who already have an established belief in Jehovah have been left scratching their heads as they wonder if the powers of darkness didn’t toss them an underhanded ball from Hell with this production, or if the good Lord in Heaven above Himself wasn’t just smiting them directly for buying and sinking their entire life savings into Harold Camping’s most famous prediction of the end times (the second of at least three) made only a few years before during that time the rest of the world stood by ready to shake their heads.

Now, please take into consideration that I am not actively trying to establish anyone with religious beliefs is nutty. Of course, I don’t even have to with a movie like Left Behind, as its own faith-themed writers Paul Lalonde and John Patus do an admirable job of that by themselves. Which is weird (not to mention insulting) at the very least: how are we supposed to take the righteous seriously when they are depicted as highly judgmental buffoons who can’t even hold their own in an argument about theology with marginally memorable television actors like Chad Michael Murray (whom I erroneously believed was actually former Our House star Chad Allen the way through)? And, apart from former Back to the Future co-star Lea Thompson, the rest of Left Behind‘s Christians remain quite literally unseen even before they are summoned up to Heaven. (And those whom we do see aren’t developed enough to count as actual characters, yet they get assigned names in the end credits – even if we aren’t introduced to them.)

Well, five paragraphs in, and I still haven’t really touched upon the actual story here yet, so permit me to try to get back on track (though with a movie as off-kilter as this, it’s hard to do). Nicolas Cage is an adulterous airline pilot (read: surprisingly sober airline pilot) with two children and a wife who has recently found Jesus and the alienation/humiliation that apparently comes with being born again. Taking an assignment to fly to London from his native New York (OK, Baton Rouge) on his birthday just to get away from the religiousness he encounters at home (read: “No more sex until you find God with me”), Nic and his slutty flight attendant girlfriend (Australian-born Nicky Whelan, whom you may recall as one of the new characters that efficiently killed the sitcom Scrubs) are all set for a weekend of otherwise ordinary and perfectly consensual illicit grown-up adult behavior such as going to see U2 (the only non-Christian musicians the writers probably knew of) in concert.

Alas, as the members of U2 may have said before 1987, “that which we are searching for seems to be completely unattainable at this point in time.” Without warning, God sweeps His faithful flock off of the face of the Earth, along with all of the innocent children. In a wise move, the film only depicts its adolescent characters in their early tweens or younger, as it’s hard to ascertain just how old one has to be chronologically to no longer be considered an innocent in God’s eyes. The Rapture that had failed to come true so many other times over has finally happened, and nobody seems to be able to place their finger on the mysterious unexplained disappearance of millions around the world. Except for, that is, a drug addict (as played by non-actress stuntwoman Georgina Rawlings) flying First Class on Cage’s plane – in what appears to be a complete reversal of the classic Cheech and Chong line “I was all messed up on drugs ’til I found the Lord. Now, I’m all messed up on the Lord.”

So, a heavily made-up Nicolas Cage and Chad Michael Murray (not Chad Allen) try to figure out a way to get back to the ground safely while not only attempting to unravel a mystery only a wigged-out tweaker can assess, but keeping the plane’s panicked assortment of bit players and total non-actors in-general in check. Meanwhile, Cage’s overemotional grown daughter (Australian-born Cassi Thomson, whom you may recall as having never truly noticed in anything else before, even though she may have actually been there) is left to fend for herself in a really super sunny, Southern-exposed misrepresentation of New York City (note: Baton Rouge looks nothing like NYC, and I’ve never been to either city – it’s that obvious) that has gone crazy with looters making off with clearly empty big-screen TV boxes, despondent parents who have lost their children, and other cretins whom God has Left Behind: redheads, guys with long hair, and ethnic people – who are mostly seen breakdancing in a mall (?) and looting. (Ahem.)

Who pulls the gun on Nic’s plane when her daughter disappears? The half-black girl (Jordin Sparks), whom the writers soon forget about. Who else doesn’t make the list in First Class when the others vanish? An undefined Muslim-style guy (Alec Rayme), an angry little person (Martin Klebba, whom you may recall as an occasional semi-regular on Scrubs, where he played an angry little person), an Asian guy who believes in aliens (Han Soto – seriously, that’s his name), a senile old woman (who, apparently wasn’t putting out enough for the filmmakers to credit, as her name or character doesn’t seem to be listed), and a jerk businessman (Gary Grubbs). Suddenly, it becomes “Airport ’14”, as these remaining cretins suddenly start acting like they’re in another, even dumber movie. And honestly, the undefined Muslim guy is the nicest fellow in the cabin, who tries to get everyone to pray and even comforts the old senile lady. (There’s nary a gay person in the movie, which either surprises me or it doesn’t; I’m not sure how to take that.)

And yet, undefined Muslim guy still gets terrorized (sorry) and mercilessly harassed by, of all the people onboard, the angry little person. I mean, the dwarf really rides the poor fellow hard for being “different” – despite the fact that he was Left Behind as well for not being like anyone else! This becomes all the more offensive once the character of diminished stature becomes the movie’s comic relief that culminates in a brief scene where the undefined Muslim guy quite literally kicks the dwarf down the inflatable slide at the conclusion of the movie – wherein he disappears completely (Mr. Klebba no doubt went to look for his agent after that scene to show him just how angry he can really be) and nobody says anything about the previously peaceful man’s suddenly hateful actions. Speaking of the movie’s conclusion, this had to have been one of the funniest, most scientifically implausible emergency landings in any airplane disaster movie ever.

Apparently, British-born stuntman-turned-director Vic Armstrong has next to no idea how things such as aeronautics work. Witness, as Nicolas Cage, doing his best to look somewhat dignified (by Nicolas Cage standards, that is) and at least halfway interested in the two-hour cinematic commercial for something that even fans of the novel are still uncertain of that he has somehow landed himself in the middle of, finds himself literally trying to land a plane with little more than a wing and a prayer. Running on little more than fumes and bad disaster movie cliches, he is able to not only pull a sharp turn and completely lower and stop a plane that is hurtling towards the ground with the brakes on his two remaining parts of his aircraft’s landing gear. It defies logic. It certainly defies science. Heck, even God had to have rolled His eyes at that sight – and the really bad CGI the filmmakers used certainly didn’t do the already plane wreck of movie any favors.

And those are just some of the low points of a real low blow of a low budget feature that makes one wonder if the men Rev. LaHaye sued all those years ago were just trying to get back at him by making the movie even worse than any imagined they could the second time around. Riddled with terrible acting, dialogue that even the brave men and women who mistranslated many a cheapo European horror movie into English during the ’70s and ’80s would have to stop and say “Wait, what?”, a soundtrack that sounds like it was culled directly from an in-flight PSA produced in the early ’90s by a really bad Kenny G wannabe artist, and a genuine lack of heart only add to the godawfulness Left Behind leaves behind in its wake. Honestly, it’s not even bad enough to be funny enough to praise as as being so bad it’s good. Yes, it even totally fails at being a cult movie – which is something that I fully understand could be perceived as the final irony to some.

Of course, the only real irony here is that, despite Left Behind was widely regarded as one of the Worst Movies of 2014 by both mainstream and Christian critics and audiences alike (none were left unoffended by the filmmakers’ carelessness or incompetence), it still managed to be outdone on the bad movie front by Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas a month later. (Why, that crafty little devil!) Of course, you’re all welcomed to see for yourself with Entertainment One’s Blu-ray release of the movie, which presents the future contender for items to not include in a time capsule in a 1080p presentation that is just good enough to show off all of the bad special effects and Nic Cage’s terrible makeup. The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1 with DTS-HD MA sound and optional Spanish subtitles. (They’re all mostly Catholic anyway, so they might be easily converted. The French, on the other hand, are as godless as they come, so they don’t deserve any subtitles – that, or they just don’t buy into it at all.)

Special features for this fiasco include interviews with several key cast and crew (check out Mr. Cage’s Starfleet knockoff jacket, from his personal wardrobe, nonetheless), some behind-the-scenes/EPK filler, and other uninteresting promotional bits and pieces for the movie and/or its source. The Blu-ray also includes trailers for other faith-based movies that I doubt will make their way to theaters. (Did you know John Ratzenberger and Craig Bierko are making faith-based movies? You do now.) Ultimately – and I’m sure I don’t need to mention this – the bonus materials are of little importance, as this globally-panned picture that is sincerely low on style and critically lacking any sort of substance whatsoever couldn’t find salvation if they remade it ten times more, each time with bigger budgets, bigger (or at least more convincing) name actors, and much bigger hearts towards all of God’s children.

But please, people, don’t try. You’ve left us all behind enough as things stand, yourselves included. Instead, I suggest you prepare not for the wrath of God, but the vengeful fury of Reverend LaHaye’s solicitors. And maybe even Kirk Cameron, too, for that matter. If you’re looking for God, you may want to look elsewhere than in Christian fiction (you’d have better luck finding a virgin in a maternity ward, not to mix metaphors). You certainly won’t find Him anywhere in Left Behind, as it is ungodly in every sense of the word.

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Luigi Bastardo

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