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"LEFT BEHIND"
(2000) (Kirk Cameron, Brad Johnson) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: After millions of people suddenly vanish off Earth, those who are left behind try to figure out what happened and why.
PLOT:
Buck Williams (KIRK CAMERON) is a young TV reporter who's interviewing scientist/researcher Chaim Rosenzweig (COLIN FOX) in Jerusalem about a breakthrough he's made in feeding the world's population. A sudden military attack on Israel interrupts them, but suddenly day turns into night and the attacking planes begin exploding and falling from the sky without ever being fired upon.

Meanwhile in Chicago, airline pilot Rayford Steele (BRAD JOHNSON) has just received a call that he has to head out early for a flight to London, much to the disapproval of his wife Irene (CHRISTINE MacFADYEN). It seems that their marriage is rather rocky, and she's upset that he'll miss the birthday party for his son, Raymie (JACK MANCHESTER), as will their 20-year-old daughter, Chloe (JANAYA STEPHENS), who's headed back to school.

Back in New York, Buck meets with Dirk Burton (JACK LANGEDIJK), a paranoid informant who tells him that some unscrupulous investment bankers, Johnathan Stonegal (DANIEL PILON) and Joshua Cothran (TONY DE SANTIS), are behind Rosenzweig's invention and are somehow involved with Nicolae Carpathia (GORDON CURRIE), an up and coming United Nations official.

Despite his wife's objections, Rayford sets out for his transatlantic flight with flight attendant Hattie Durham (CHELSEA NOBLE), who he's apparently having or is ready to have an affair with. Also on board is Kirk who also knows Hattie and has helped get her a job in the United Nations, with this being her last day in the air. Before she can celebrate, however, panic strikes the airliner when various people suddenly vanish in mid-flight, leaving only a pile of their clothing behind.

Rayford returns the flight to Chicago only to learn that millions of people have disappeared around the world, including his wife and son, and mass panic has broken out. While Rayford and Chloe console each other and find religion with the aid of Pastor Bruce Barnes (CLARENCE GILYARD) who briefly loses but then regains his own faith after this cataclysmic event, Buck sets out to figure out what's going on, eventually leading him to an encounter with none other than the Antichrist who's determined to rule the world.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
When it comes to making and then marketing movies, there are times when it's better to be subtle, and others when a more aggressive and blatant approach works best. Although over the top performances and "look what I can do" directorial styles often feed egos and occasionally win awards, many moviegoers and critics appreciate some degree of subtlety in those and other related cinematic fields.

The same holds true for films that have an obvious message or agenda that they're trying to impart on their viewers. While various films obviously have strong affiliations with certain political, social or religious ideologies, they work best when they don't browbeat the viewer with their beliefs and/or messages, and instead use a little surreptitiousness to get the job done.

When promoting a film, however, one must take the polar opposite approach. Since there's almost always a crowded marketplace and customers who have plenty of other entertainment options at their disposal, studios and distributors must aggressively court and lure in potential viewers by nearly any means possible. That explains the presence of movie trailers that spoil the film by showing all of the action, telling all of the best jokes, etc.

In relation to those two matters, the film "Left Behind" horribly fails in one regard and may just do the same in the other. Unlike most studios that see straight to video releases as a way to dump their subpar products (except for some kid-based features), the folks behind this movie - that's based on the novel of the same name by Tim F. LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins - purposefully released it on video months before its theatrical release.

Strange, yes, but the reason behind this falls into the grass roots variety, where the filmmakers hope that that the Christian community will see and embrace the video, and then go see it again in the theaters upon its wide release with everyone they can convince or drag along with them. The theory is that they'll produce big box office numbers and thus convince Hollywood to start making wholesome, Christian-based entertainment.

That's all fine and dandy, but various huge problems loom about this production that will probably prevent that from happening. One is that this really isn't pure, wholesome entertainment along the lines of what's offered on TV's "Touched By An Angel," or past shows such as "The Waltons" and "The Andy Griffith Show."

In this latest "The Antichrist is Coming! The Antichrist is Coming!" feature, people are murdered in front of others and two of the major characters are having or nearly begin an affair (although we don't see anything beyond some kissing). Defenders of the film will undoubtedly argue that the murders are ordered/concocted by the evil and/or unfaithful and that the affair/potential fling was before one of the involved parties found God.

That's directly tied to the film's second biggest problem, and that is that it's simply too blatant and preachy in its pro-Christian message. Although I'm sure there will be those who enjoy and support the film for that very fact, most Christians and particularly those viewers the film is trying to convert will be turned off by the complete lack of subtlety that's on display here. While the filmmakers obviously have the right to make this film however they choose fit, the fact that they take the "bang 'em over the head with a sledgehammer" approach will unfortunately backfire in regards to their intentions.

Although that in itself will limit the number of the people who see the film, its biggest problem - namely that it's pretty bad in every way imaginable from an artistic sense - will probably be the ultimate blow against it. Despite a reported $17 million budget, the film has a cheesy, made for TV movie look about it and contains some horribly fake looking, computer-generated special effects that are embarrassing to behold.

That, the bad acting, ludicrous writing from screenwriters Alan McElroy ("Spawn," "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers"), Paul LaLonde ("Revelation," "Apocalypse" and producer of this film) and Joe Goodman (another of the film's producers), and ham-fisted direction by director Vic Sarin ("The Legend of Gator Face," "Cold Comfort") will probably mean that those who've seen it on video won't plop down their hard earned dollars to do so again in the theaters and/or will be embarrassed to drag along convert targets to it. Those who do repeatedly see it just to make their point to Hollywood will probably do so begrudgingly and hopefully will only buy the tickets and not sit through it again lest they be deemed masochists.

While the basic, underlying sci-fi type premise of millions of people suddenly vanishing has some potential in an "X-Files" type fashion, most everything about the way in which the filmmakers tell the ensuing story is mishandled and/or ludicrous. Beyond the stilted dialogue ("I can't let you go outside. It's madness out there") and erratic and often momentum killing pacing, there are various absurd developments that will have most everyone chuckling, rolling their eyes or simply getting up and leaving after too many such occurrences.

Among them, the United Nations takes control of the world after the big vanishing act, while a TV reporter has enough pull to get a flight attendant a high profile job at the U.N. (that obviously then allows him easy access to the people he needs to meet inside). That same reporter broadcasts himself live via a cordless camera and handheld satellite dish, all while the convoluted and increasingly preposterous plot doesn't make much sense to anyone who hasn't read the book, and clearly isn't very effective.

Although Kirk Cameron ("Like Father, Like Son," TV's "Growing Pains") isn't right for the role of the inquisitive protagonist, he's not as cringe worthily bad as some of the other performers such as Brad Johnson ("Always," "Flight of the Intruder") as the airline pilot who's suddenly and nothing short of contrivedly born again (which won't describe his mainstream acting career after this mess). The rest of the performers are either bland and forgettable or come off as villainous rejects from some James Bond flick, no doubted helped by the stiff and inane dialogue they must spout.

I'm not sure why so many religious-based films have to be so bad from a production value standpoint and/or contain such fire & brimstone/coming of the Antichrist messages. By making them that way, they'll only turn off or amuse those they're trying to convert. Perhaps one day they'll see the light and recruit some real talent to make these sorts of films in a more subtle and professional manner.

Until then, they'll only be preaching to the choir - so to speak -- and will be laughed at by Hollywood types who are far better at making both apocalyptic and faith-based films. With a title that best describes what Christians and everyone else should do with this release, "Left Behind" rates as just a 2 out of 10.




Reviewed January 26, 2000 / Posted February 2, 2001


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