Tag Archives: bad christian movies

Worst of 2016: God’s Not Dead 2

God’s Not Dead 2

gnd21

Up next in my series on the worst films of 2016 is the ultra-evangelical follow up to the 2014 hit God’s Not Dead: God’s Not Dead 2.

The plot of God’s Not Dead is loosely summarized on IMDb as follows:

When a high school teacher is asked a question in class about Jesus, her response lands her in deep trouble.

The lion’s share of the crew for God’s Not Dead 2 are holdovers from the first God’s Not Dead film, including director Harold Cronk, co-writers Chuck Conzelman and Cary Solomon, music composer Will Musser, cinematographer Brian Shanley, and editor Vance Null.

While there are few new faces at work behind the cameras, the cast features quite a number of new additions to the franchise. Gone are previous stars Kevin Sorbo, Shane Harper, and Dean Cain, but present are newcomers like Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters, Leviathan, Congo), Ray Wise (RoboCop, Twin Peaks), and Melissa Joan Hart (Clarissa Explains It All). While a few bit players provide connective tissue between the films, God’s Not Dead 2 is not so much a sequel as it is a spin-off, telling an entirely new story in the same (very) fictional universe.

gnd22

The lion’s share of God’s Not Dead 2 was filmed in Little Rock, Arkansas. This was a change in setting from the previous film, which was shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, primarily on the campus of Louisiana State University.

God’s Not Dead 2 was the final film of Fred Dalton Thompson, who died in November of 2015. While he was best known for his work in the Law & Order television franchise, he also had a handful of film roles in features like Baby’s Day Out, In The Line Of Fire, Days of Thunder, The Hunt For Red October, and the Scorsese remake of Cape Fear.

The production budget for the movie was estimated at $5 million. As with the first film, it wound up making a profit at the box office, taking in somewhere between $21 million and $24 million worldwide in its lifetime theatrical run. However, this paled in comparison to the profits for the original God’s Not Dead, which took in $62 million on a $2 million budget.

Critically, however, God’s Not Dead 2 didn’t do nearly so well. Currently, it holds Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 9% from critics and 63% from audiences, along with an IMDb user rating of 4.1/10.

Of all of the critical reviews that I read of the movie, I think that the Rotten Tomatoes critics consensus line best summarizes the essence of God’s Not Dead 2:

Every bit the proselytizing lecture promised by its title, God’s Not Dead 2 preaches ham-fistedly to its paranoid conservative choir.

Honestly, I can’t even begin to talk about all of the problems with the plot to this film. There are too many misconceptions, half-truths, straw men, and flat out lies to list out without it dominating the entire review. Frankly, that is why I didn’t review the original God’s Not Dead: I want to talk about a movie, not a paranoid treatise built on a foundation of sand. So, I am going to focus on other aspects of the movie, and leave the debunking to other folks. I can recommend reading reactions and reviews over at ThinkProgress, from the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s legal intern, and at Godless in Dixie.

As with the first film, one of the biggest weaknesses of God’s Not Dead 2 is the dialogue. Characters don’t speak organically, often sounding rigid and artificial, which further emphasizes the bloated, exaggerated caricatures that inhabit the cartoonish, simplistic story. At best, characters sound like they are delivering sermons. At worst, they just seem wooden and stilted.

The story itself, concept aside, is weighed down by the ensemble concept that provides its framework. Unlike the first film, the various plot threads and characters never really tie together in the end, and don’t much impact each other, which makes a lot of the movie feel pointless. In particular, a number of the loose connections to the first film could have been jettisoned to help the pacing of the story, like the Chinese student and the buddy priests. As it stands, the movie feels longer than it actually is because of the perceived lack of progression: the constant cutting between characters and plot threads makes following along feel like plodding through molasses.

One thing that I noticed quite a bit in the screenplay was a consistent ire directed at Stanford University. While Stanford is certainly a prestigious school with a liberal pedigree, I’m not sure why it wound up being the specific target of the film’s disdain for liberal higher education. Why not Harvard or Princeton? I would have assumed that the Yankee, Ivy league elite would be the go-to targets of extreme conservatives.

In regards to performances in God’s Not Dead 2, there is a pretty wide range to be found. While most of the cast sleepwalk through their dialogue, like the typically charming Ernie Hudson,  Ray Wise in particular embraces his role as a God-hating, moustache-twirling attorney. The movie lights up just the tiniest bit whenever he is on screen, and he provides some much needed energy for the courtroom sequences.

gnd23

All in all, God’s Not Dead 2 feels more like a fan film than a sequel, which is really odd given how much of the creative team returned from the first film. The whole affair feels chained to the previous movie, going so far as to force the title into the dialogue unnecessarily. That said, I actually think some of the technical craft is improved, though my memory is a little fuzzy in regards to the previous film.

As far as a recommendation goes, there is unfortunately not enough entertainment value here to enjoy the experience. It is just too dull and plodding to make sitting through it fun at all, despite Ray Wise’s performance and a handful of notable moments of complete disjointedness from reality.

Advertisements

Suing The Devil

Suing The Devil

suingdevil3

Today’s feature is a Christian courtroom thriller/drama that is as self-explanatory as possible: Suing The Devil.

Suing The Devil was written, directed, and produced by Timothy A. Chey, who has worked on a number of Christian movies that are designed to be inconspicuous, including The Genius Club, Live Fast, Die Young, and Gone.

The cinematographer for the film was Tom Gleeson, who has done some camera work on films like Happy Feet.

The effects for the movie were done by a team that included Ricardo Echevarria (Eight Crazy Nights, The Iron Giant), Ross Newton (Argo, Ant-Man), and Stacy Lande (The Prophecy).

The cast of Suing The Devil includes Corbin Bernsen (The Dentist, The Dentist 2), Tom Sizemore (True Romance, Natural Born Killers), and Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, Caligula), who also served as a producer. A number of the lead roles, however, are filled in by unknowns, like Shannen Fields and Bart Bronson.

The plot of Suing The Devil is described on its IMDb page as follows:

A down-and-out law student sues Satan for $8 trillion dollars. Satan appears to defend himself and the trial of the century takes place.

As with many Christian films, the reviews for Suing The Devil from both critics and audiences were dramatically polarized. It currently holds a 4.8 rating on IMDb and a 39% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, but both user-submitted review sites feature a whole lot of 1-star and 5-star reviews, with very little in between.

suingdevil2As you would expect, the message of Suing The Devil is beaten over the audience’s head constantly: everything bad is Satan’s fault, Satan is real, etc. This is a consistent aspect of many Christian movies I have watched: they get so wrapped up in their message that they forget to do literally anything else, which ultimately (and, I suppose, ironically) weakens the message as a result, by not providing it any realistic foundation.

As far as specific problems with this movie go, the first and biggest one is with the premise itself, and the movie’s abysmal writing. The biggest question in the plot, obviously, is: “How do we know Malcolm McDowell is Satan?” If he isn’t proved to be Satan somehow, then the trial at the center of the movie has no foundation. This is brought up early on by the judge, but totally dropped after she is distracted by the room getting uncomfortably hot. This is the equivalent of a Looney Toons misdirection gag, and the result is that McDowell is not proven to be Satan, but the trial goes on anyway. Eventually this issue of identity comes back up late in the movie, but the idea proceedings would have gone anywhere without proof of identity is beyond absurd. Going further than that, that premise that Satan exists at all (regardless of whether it has a physical form, let alone a Malcolm McDowell form) is completely brushed over, as it is assumed in the courtroom that the Bible is literal fact. The ultimate “resolution” to these issues comes late in the trial, when McDowell is prompted to vomit computer-generated fire after he has a bible passage read to him, because only evil supernatural beings are capable of pulling off such shoddy effects.

The characters that fill out the background of Suing the Devil are a bizarre lot. Satan’s assumed supporters include three distinct groups of people, who apparently make up most of the world’s population in this Christian persecution fantasy-land: Satan-worshipers, theists who dislike God (Satan’s entire defense team), and atheists, who really shouldn’t have a dog in the fight, but apparently are universally evil and operate oil companies. Speaking of folks who have no investment in this religious trial, it is casually mentioned that countries like Pakistan and North Korea are live-streaming the court case. I think the writers meant this to represent that evil countries were pulling for Satan, but that makes no sense whatsoever, and reveals quite a bit about their limited knowledge of religion and world affairs.

Suing the Devil has one of the most distinct gulfs of on-screen talent that I have ever seen in a movie. On the positive end is Malcolm McDowell, who, even though he is clearly only present to receive his paycheck, has some solid moments as Satan. Honorable mentions also go to Tom Sizemore, who briefly hams up a performance in his handful of appearances, and Corbin Bernsen, who apparently loves showing up in this schlock Christian movies. However, the lion’s share of the primary roles go to actors who sound like they wouldn’t make the cut for a community theater production. The lead, for instance, has some of the worst deliveries I have seen in a very long time, and he spends most of the movie in frame. At the very least, I would say it is a little surreal to see sub-amateur performances interspersed with decent Hollywood actors slumming it for a paycheck.

suingdevil1I would love to be able to recommend this movie based on the premise and Malcolm McDowell alone, but this film is one of the most boring and inane things I have ever sat through. The bafflingly terrible performances are only entertaining for so long, and the writing has no sense of pacing, style, or subtlety. That makes the movie as a whole about as interesting to watch and listen to as a sermon without any charisma. If there was a super-cut of the movie (which clocks in at an agonizing 2 hours long) of just the Malcolm McDowell sequences, I would recommend watching that for the humor factor of the bad writing and performances. The whole thing, however, is not worth sitting through.

BibleMan: Defeating the Shadow of Doubt

BibleMan: Defeating the Shadow of Doubt

shadowofdoubt1

Today, I’m continuing my week-long marathon of the Bibleman franchise as part of Secular Students Week. If you make a donation to the Secular Student Alliance this week, and I’ll cover a movie of your choice.

In 1998, two years after the conclusion of “The Bibleman Show,” “Defeating the Shadow of Doubt” marked the first episode of “The Bibleman Adventure,” the second and longest-running incarnation of the show.

For “Defeating the Shadow of Doubt,” Willie Aames takes sole writing and directing credits, and continues to star as the crusading eponymous hero, Bibleman. Chris Fann, who was previously co-director on “The Bibleman Show,” is now relegated to director of photography, I assume for the purpose of giving Aames sole credit. Notably, Tony Salerno’s creation credit for the Bibleman character is absent from both the ending and opening, which makes me wonder how much internal turbulence there was over the change of direction for the show.

shadowofdoubt4

The villain of the episode is Shadow of Doubt, who is overall a pretty generic antagonist for Bibleman. He uses a sort of chemical to inspire doubt in people, which reminded me a bit of the mind control used by previous villains. His performance is certainly over the top, but the character still comes off as pretty dull on the whole. He does have a fourth wall breaking henchman named Ludicrous, who is somewhat self-aware about his position, and steals the show from Shadow of Doubt in most of the villain scenes. However, Shadow does get his time to shine with his frenetic dancing musical number.

“Who is both a verb and a noun!”

“Shadow of Doubt!”

For the first time in the franchise, Bibleman has allies in the form U.N.I.C.E. and Coats. U.N.I.C.E. is an intelligent, speaking computer that runs the Bibleman headquarters, and continues to appear throughout the rest of the series. Coats is a pretty generic assistant / sidekick, who has a vague sort of military aesthetic to him.

The story of “Defeating the Shadow of Doubt” centers on a young girl, Kyla, who has lost her faith, which is initially assumed to be due to her parents arguing. However, there are also sinister forces at play in the form of a Pandora’s box of doubt, planted by a new villain called Shadow of Doubt. Bibleman has to overcome his own insecurities and find a way to defeat the shadow, and help restore Kyla’s faith.

Kyla: “You don’t know how I feel! Nobody does! Not even God!”

Bibleman: “Kyla, that’s just not true. God does care…I mean, he must?”

“Defeating the Shadow of Doubt” features a new introduction that focuses more on action, and also introduces the more familiar BibleMan logo. The old theme song is still around, but it plays over the credits as opposed to the introduction sequence. Honestly, it is a bit strange tone-wise to have both styles present, but I am guessing that will only be the case for a few of these transition episodes.

shadowofdoubt3

There is still a children’s musical number at the beginning of the episode, but it is cut into semi-digestible small chunks. I’m curious if this was initially intended as part of an episode of “The Bibleman Show,” and was repurposed for “Defeating the Shadow of Doubt.”

“Defeating the Shadow of Doubt” features more deliberate attempts at humor than previous episodes, most of which awkwardly fall flat. As the series goes on, the amount of tongue in cheek self-awareness seems to increase, which adds a whole new dimension of cringe-inducing awkwardness to the show.

The entire episode of “Defeating the Shadow of Doubt” reinforces a stereotype that the only reason people leave religion is due to some trauma or sinister influence, which just isn’t true by a long shot. The Bibleman version of questioning faith is also kind of hilarious in its lack of sincerity.

“In my mind I know all the right scriptures. I just don’t feel like they are real. One thing is for certain: whoever this [villain] is, he has affected my ability to reason.”

-Bibleman

I was a little surprised when Shadow of Doubt survived the episode, especially given the show’s pattern for giving villains violent and tortuous ends. I assume this was done to make a statement about how doubt never totally goes away, or something to that effect.

shadowofdoubt5

“Defeating the Shadow of Doubt” is more or less middle-of-the-road as far as entertainment value for Bibleman goes. The villain could certainly have been better, but there are still some entertainingly awful child acting and dialogue moments that help it out. It is certainly easier to sit through than the first two episodes of “The Bibleman Show,” and features a lot more cheesy action and fighting, if that is what you are looking for.