Here’s a sentence that will surprise no one: the Nicolas Cage starring Christian apocalypse thriller Left Behind is a bad movie. Here’s a sentence that might disappoint quite a few folks: the Nicolas Cage starring Christian apocalypse thriller Left Behind is not a hilariously bad movie, and just an incredibly dull one.
Back when the popular Left Behind novelwas made into a trilogy of direct-to-church-basement Kirk Cameron epics, there was a certain camp value to be enjoyed. The movies had that magical balance of being so hopelessly earnest and pathetically cheap that a little booze and a lot of irony could turn them into flat out comedies. When the producers of that series decided to add a substantial amount cash to the budget along with a substantial amount of Cage to the cast of this reboot, it seemed destined to be one of those so-bad-it’s-good entries in the great thespian’s career. Sadly, from the moment he appears on screen for the first time sporting a surprisingly conservative haircut and delivering lines in a manner that could described under-the-top, it’s clear this won’t be the absurd movie that all us sinners and doubters were hoping for. Unfortunately, it’s far too stoically Christian of a production to cross the line into insanity. It’s just a dull and boring attempt at a thriller that takes its sweet time to amount to nothing.
Cage stars as a commercial pilot who has to leave his family to fly on his birthday with secret plans of hooking up with a stewardess on his big day. Cage’s wife (Lea Thompson) has been a born again Christian for about a year and keeps ranting about Jesus and the rapture in a way that’s made Cage run away right into another vagina. Cassi Thomson plays Cage’s daughter, but aside from also being skeptical of her mother’s behavior and suspicious of her father’s possible womanizing, she has no real character. He job in the movie is to look pretty, scream, panic, and listen politely during exposition.
There will be plenty of exposition, by the way, because disaster strikes not even 20 minute into Cage’s fight. Specifically, a bunch of people (including the co-pilot) on the plane just disappear and the same thing happens on the ground while Thompson wanders around crying. The rapture has hit earth and the departed souls have been saved. For all of the sinners left on earth, they’re going to have to survive this limp disaster movie knock off and possibly two sequels before facing 7-years of darkness once God’s total jerk of an ex-friend Satan kicks off that apocalypse party that he’s had planned for centuries.
So, what we have here is a route disaster movie with a biblical twist. Beyond all that bible hokum, Left Behind is just a straight up Airport-style thriller that falls into every single possible generic trap and cliché that implies. In fact, it might as well just be called Airport 2014: The Rapture because it follows every beat of that generic genre that Airplane parodied into obscurity almost 35 years ago.
Directing duties fall onto longtime Hollywood stuntman Vic Armstrong, which means the movie looks like a competent production and not a slapdash toss off. The five or six stunts that the producers could afford turned out ok, too. That’s all you can really say about Armstrong’s contribution. Even Cage—who should at least have been a reliable source for life and insanity in a rapture propaganda thriller—looks like he was paid to participate in sleeping pills. Given that he’s flying a plane in the midst of a biblical apocalypse, one might think he’d have a chance to get stressed or emotional. But nope, he just looks dreary eyed and sad. Anyone wondering how the producers could afford him need only take note of the fact that he performs at least 80% of his role sitting down in the same cheap cockpit set from the same four or five camera angles. He likely cranked out this semi-starring role in a week and it looks like he didn’t bother to wake up the entire time.
There was real potential here to make a big, nutty, Christian thriller that could cross over to mainstream audiences, but everyone plays it far too safe. In an attempt to attract a non-hardcore Christian audience who won’t be buying a ticket to the movie anyways, the evangelical message has been toned down. The filmmakers claim they didn’t want to preach this time, which is a shame because only the choir will be watching.
Even the few elements of the movie that seem guaranteed to offer ludicrous camp during the set up somehow play out dull. Amongst the obvious bunch of buffoons on Cage’s plane are a stereotypical Asian man who represents the scientific perspective, but merges vaguely researched science with crackpot alien theories. Likewise, the requisite racist tough guy is inexplicably played by a dwarf actor (Martin Klebba, a Howard Stern regular). Both of those characters had the potential to go ludicrously off the rails and then get into a shouting match with a ready and willing Cage. Never happens though. They just fulfill their tiresome plot duties and disappear.
Left Behind is forgettable, boring, unoriginal, and a waste of time. Fortunately for the producers, the built in audience probably won’t care or even notice. Unfortunately for the rest of us, there’s no entertainment to be had from even watching the movie in jest. Best to just let it go. Hopefully the almost inevitable sequel will deliver the crazy that never came through here. For now, if you want to a laugh find the Christian soft rock Left Behind theme song online instead. Now that delivers the goods and in under five minutes too.