Cage Match

This week’s film was written by two very special fifth graders from Columbus, Ohio.

Left Behind
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Left Behind

Release year: 2014 Posted October 5, 2014

There’s no time to change your mind /

The son has come and you’ve been left behind

Jordin Sparks, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”

Vic Armstrong is the world’s greatest stunt man. He’s had an illustrious career coordinating and executing stunts for more than a hundred movies including Raiders of the Lost Arc, Thor, and Total Recall, so it follows that Vic might want to pursue something bigger. Having been mentored in second unit direction by George Lucas, a terrible director himself, Vic finally found a vehicle to complete his transition from stunt man to major motion picture director. That vehicle is Left Behind.

Left Behind is a remake of the 2000 movie Left Behind, which was adapted from Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye’s series of Christian interest novels also called Left Behind. It’s hard to evaluate the quality of Left Behind because the content is objectionable to me. It’s disgusting to create and market a movie about the scariest possible interpretation of Biblical endtimes in order to turn a profit. Since the release of the original Left Behind novel, the eleven sequels, four movie adaptations, and real-time strategy PC game, Jenkins and LaHaye have made a boatload of cash. By combining religion with modern entertainment, they’ve been able to create wholly new sources of revenue, like the Left Behind Ministry Resources Kit, sold for $69.99 (participant study guide available separately).

The fairest way to review a movie like Left Behind is as an action disaster flick. An argument could be made that it fits into the Christsploitation genre, but although it does exploit both the audience and the figure of Christ, it goes too far to be entertaining. Even as an action film, Left Behind cannot redeem itself.

The plot focuses on airline pilot Rayford Steele (Nicolas Cage) and his family in the run-up to and aftermath of the Rapture. Some people are faithful Christians, some are not—those who doubt are the ones who get “left behind.” Cage’s Steele, driven away by his wife’s recent conversion to evangelical Christianity, accepts a last-minute job to fly to London so he can impress his mistress with U2 tickets even though his daughter Chloe came home to surprise him for his birthday. The Rapture happens mid-flight, and the rest of the movie is a race against various disasters that ends with father and daughter reunited on an Earth free of devout Christians, left to pick up the pieces and think about faith.

I commented to our publisher halfway through the film that I wasn’t nearly Christian enough to understand the rules of what was happening. This made it difficult to sit through the first 45 minutes of the film’s 110 total, which are spent on tons of needless exposition about how Christians can love non-Christians and how sad it will be for non-Christians whenever the Rapture happens. Unlike The Day After Tomorrow or 2012, no time is taken to explain the rules of the end of the world. The viewer is just supposed to know.

I’ve done some research since watching Left Behind and I now have a better understanding of the evangelical Christian interpretation of the Book of Revelation. But there’s a lingering question that the film doesn’t attempt to explain. If there’s a deadline for loving Jesus and you’re permanently barred from Heaven if you miss it, how could anything that happens after the cutoff be interesting? There are no stakes. With no way for the non-believers to undo their damnation, their post-Rapture actions are meaningless. It’s just bad plotting. Realistically, the only good thing that could come of this apocalypse scenario would be for the remaining characters to team up with the dark god Satan, possibly making for an interesting “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” buddy comedy. I mean, they’ve been forsaken by a petty god for not worshiping him. Why are we interested in their sudden regret? How is that a good movie?

Well, it’s not. The juvenile screenplay, the asinine musical score, the presence of an American Idol winner, the use of a little person as nothing more than the butt of physical comedy jokes, the disregard for other world religions, and the awful special effects all underscore this fact. And don’t even get me started on the way Chloe Steele was able to expertly operate an abandoned motorcycle, heavy duty pickup truck, and steamroller, in that order. Trying to find something good to say about this movie is like nailing gelatin to a cross.

Then there’s Nic. Sweet, innocent Nic. I wish he’d been ready. A massive exploitation machine like Left Behind seems like it would benefit greatly from Cage’s figurative and literal piloting. He worked so well in Drive Angry, and here he is again channeling the same type of character. Grounded in his own absurd reality, he makes believable choices. I can’t say I found anything wrong with his acting. It was the best part of the movie, really. Then again, sometimes death is the best part of a car accident, so there’s no point making comparisons.

What I wanted to see was a less restrained Cage, gnashing his teeth, angry at a vindictive god that would forsake him for his lack of faith. I wanted to see Cage’s initial religious doubt get consumed by the abyss of self-doubt, leaving him unable to fly his plane of the damned without reassurance or intervention. Cage should have been given space to bring out his Nouveau Shamanic style. Instead, his performance is dry and devoid of anything that should happen in a world where a character played by Nic is picked on by God.

Everything about Left Behind is wrong. Nic talks about some of his reasons for accepting the role here, but the whole interview is uncomfortable and plastic. Just like the executive producers of the film and the authors of the book, Cage’s involvement was probably because of the paycheck, and his performance was ultimately damned.

Movie?
Bad
Nic Cage’s acting?
Bad
Did his performance make the movie worse?
No, there is no way this movie could have been any worse