You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Left Behind’

Nicolas Cage has rarely looked more miserable than in this dreadful update of an already dreadfully adapted faith-based property.

Nicolas Cage, Chad Michael Murray, Cassi Thomson, Lea Thompson, Nicky Whelan, Jordin Sparks, Georgina Rawlings, Martin Klebba, Gary Grubbs, Lance E. Nichols, Alec Rayme.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2467046/

In what was surely a first in the annals of motion-picture marketing, an early ad for “Left Behind” featured a quote taken not from a film critic, but rather from Satan himself, who allegedly quipped, “Please do not bring unbelievers to this movie.” This presents a rare scenario in which Christian moviegoers ought to feel perfectly secure heeding the advice of the Devil, as this faith-based thriller is likely to inspire far more dorm-room drinking games than religious conversions. With a “Sharknado”-inspired visual style and a deeply weary lead performance from Nicolas Cage, “Left Behind” is cheap-looking, overwrought kitsch of the most unintentionally hilarious order, its eschatological bent representing its only real shot at box office redemption. The film hits theaters this weekend, but as for when believers can expect to see the tenets of their faith reflected with any sort of sophistication or intelligence in a mainstream genre film, we still know neither the day nor the hour.

Appropriately for a film about the Second Coming, this is not the first attempt to adapt Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ massively popular 16-novel series of biblically inspired speculative fiction (call it “Bi-fi,” perhaps). Back in 2001, a bargain-basement version starring Kirk Cameron limped in and out of theaters, followed by two direct-to-video sequels. With a considerably larger budget and wider release strategy, this year’s edition can expect to do better business, though it will have to put in a very strong showing to avoid becoming the alpha and the omega of the rebooted franchise.

Directed by Vic Armstrong, the screenplay by Paul Lalonde and John Patus substantially strips down the plot of the series’ first novel, zeroing in on three characters as they pass the first few confused hours following the Rapture, when all virtuous Christians are abruptly beamed up into heaven, leaving the unbelievers down below. Cage stars as a hotshot airline pilot named Rayford Steele (because “Jackbuick Ironmuscles” would have been too on-the-nose), who has just ditched his newly Christian wife (Lea Thompson) for the weekend to carry on with a flight attendant (Nicky Whelan), whom he plans to seduce at a U2 concert after a flight from New York to London. Ray’s daughter, Chloe (Cassi Thomson), is a dewy-eyed religious skeptic frustrated by her mother’s abrupt conversion and fed up with her absentee father. And investigative journalist Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murray) meets cute with Chloe at the airport, managing to score her number before boarding Ray’s plane.

As soon as the plane is over the Atlantic, a slight jolt sees all the children onboard, as well as some scattered believers, vanish into thin air, leaving their clothes and possessions behind. Chloe, meanwhile, is at the mall when her younger brother goes missing, and must make her way on foot through the mildly unruly mob scene that has engulfed Long Island (unconvincingly played by Baton Rouge) to find her family. Sadly, the film never speculates on which U2 members, if any, were raptured from their London soundcheck.

From here, “Left Behind” toggles back and forth between the two scenes, typically using such phrases as “What is going on here?” and “I think I know what’s going on here!” as cues to cut. In the air, Ray struggles to deal with mechanical failures and the disappearance of his copilot, while passengers in the first-class cabin  including the fearless Williams, a fashionable drug addict, a kindly Muslim, an antagonistic little person, a bolo-clad Texas businessman, an Area 51 conspiracy theorist, and Jordin Sparks  bicker and kvetch. On the ground, Chloe does quite a lot of running and gasping, seemingly at a loss for how to fit herself into the story.

There’s nothing wrong with using the trappings of a disaster movie to attempt to spread a Christian message beyond the already converted, but “Left Behind” fails on several counts. Its spirituality manages to be both irritatingly sanctimonious and doctrinally vague; viewers who go into the film unfamiliar with the contentious Scriptural interpretations behind the series’ apocalyptic visions will leave scarcely better informed at the end. On a technical level, the pic’s touted $16 million production budget actually seems high considering what made it onscreen, with Armstrong’s leaden pacing and chintzy visual effects sapping the action sequences of all tension or believability.

One hesitates to dwell too much on the performances, given the material the actors have to work with, but there are several howlers throughout. Poor Sparks, so likable in 2012’s “Sparkle” remake, has a dramatic scene that’s so misjudged it’s difficult not to laugh. And as for Cage, he’s certainly been in worse movies than this, but he seems too cowed by the story’s religious underpinnings to embrace the crazy-eyed scenery consumption that helped make his late-career turns such guilty pleasures; here, he simply looks tired.

The issues with Cage’s performance may point to the biggest problem with the whole affair. There is nothing in the Scriptures that prohibits the good-natured enjoyment of schlocky B-movies, no reason faith-driven audiences can’t have a “Showgirls” or an “Army of Darkness” to call their own. Had the filmmakers embraced even a little bit of the plentiful camp value here, “Left Behind” at least could have been entertaining. As it stands, only the cheeky marketing person who thought to quote Satan in the film’s ads seems to have really understood what this pic’s proper tone should have been.

Film Review: 'Left Behind'

Reviewed at the Landmark, Los Angeles, Sept. 30, 2014. MPAA rating: PG-13. Running time: 111 MIN.

Production: A Freestyle Releasing release of a Stoney Lake Entertainment presentation in association with Entertainment One and Olla Prods. Produced by Paul Lalonde, Michael Walker, Ed Clydesdale. Executive producers, Bill Busbice, Jason Hewitt, J. David Williams, Bryan Wright.

Crew: Directed by Vic Armstrong. Screenplay, Paul Lalonde, John Patus, from the novel by Tim LaHaye, Jerry B. Jenkins. Camera (color), Jack N. Green; editor, Michael J. Duthie; music, Jack Lenz; production designer, Stephen Altman; art director, Jeremy Woolsey; set decorator, Barbara Haberecht; costume designer, Abby O’Sullivan; sound (Dolby Surround 5.1), Mark LeBlanc; re-recording mixer, John W. Frost; visual effects supervisor, Matthew T. Lynn; assistant director, Artist W. Robinson; casting, Dean E. Fronk, Donald Paul Pemrick.

With: Nicolas Cage, Chad Michael Murray, Cassi Thomson, Lea Thompson, Nicky Whelan, Jordin Sparks, Georgina Rawlings, Martin Klebba, Gary Grubbs, Lance E. Nichols, Alec Rayme.

More Film

  • Jeff BridgesJeff Bridges, who stars in

    Film News Roundup: Jeff Bridges Wins American Society of Cinematographers Honor

    In today’s film news roundup, Jeff Bridges is honored by cinematographers, the “Arctic” filmmakers get a first-look deal and releases are set for “Vault,” the Seth Rogen-Charlize Theron comedy and “What Lies Ahead.” BRIDGES HONORED More Reviews Film Review: 'Pledge' TV Review: 'I Am the Night' The American Society of Cinematographers has selected Jeff Bridges [...]

  • Cate Blanchett's 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette'

    Cate Blanchett's 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette' Moved Back to August

    Annapurna Pictures has moved its Richard Linklater literary adaptation “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” starring Cate Blanchett back five months from March 22 to an Aug. 9 release. A rep for Annapurna explained that August has served well as a launching pad for release of female-skewing films such as “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Florence Foster Jenkins” and [...]

  • Kumail Nanjiani Issa Rae

    Kumail Nanjiani, Issa Rae to Star in 'Lovebirds' Romantic Comedy

    “The Big Sick” star Kumail Nanjiani and “Insecure” star Issa Rae will topline Paramount’s romantic comedy “The Lovebirds.” The project will reunite Nanjiani with “The Big Sick” helmer Michael Showalter, who’s on board to direct from a script by Aaron Abrams, Brendan Gall, and Martin Gero. The project goes into production at the end of [...]

  • Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce

    Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce GLAAD Media Award Nominations

    Mj Rodriguez and Nico Santos are set to announce the nominees for the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards. The “Pose” star and “Crazy Rich Asians” funny man will make the announcement during a live-stream from the AT&T Hello Lounge at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 25. More Reviews Film Review: 'Pledge' TV Review: [...]

  • 'The Pledge' Review

    Film Review: 'Pledge'

    “Privilege comes with sacrifice” says one character to another in “Pledge” — exactly the kind of noble sentiment authority figures always voice to hush the protests of those about to be sacrificed. This third feature for director Daniel Robbins is no delicate flower of cinematic art, but a lean and mean shocker that tells its [...]

  • John Lithgow

    John Lithgow-Blythe Danner's 'Tomorrow Man' Bought Ahead of Sundance Premiere

    In one of the first deals for the upcoming Sundance Film Festival, Bleecker Street has acquired North American rights to the John Lithgow-Blythe Danner romance “The Tomorrow Man.” The movie will hold its world premiere at the fest, which opens on Jan. 24 in Park City, Utah. The distributor is planning a May 17 release. [...]

  • Dragon Ball Super Broly

    'Dragon Ball Super: Broly' Scores Big First Day With $7 Million

    Funimation Films’ Japanese anime movie “Dragon Ball Super: Broly” has opened impressively with a dominant first-day total of $7 million at 1,260 North American locations on Wednesday. The English-language version of “Dragon Ball Super: Broly,” which screened at 180 Imax and Cinemark XD premium large format screens, generated by far the best per-screen average among [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content