"God's Not Dead" continues this year's trend of faith-based movies getting wider-than-usual distribution in North American movie theaters, and it's one that will have a lot of resonance with its target audience. The best thing going for it? For once, here is a film in this genre or niche or however you want to term it that will actually provoke some serious discussion and thought during, immediately after, and possibly for some time to come.
The film stars Shane Harper of "Good Luck Charlie" as Josh, a Christian college student who enrolls in the Philosophy 101 class of atheist Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo). Radisson goads his pupils to sign a piece of paper that says, "God is dead," so he can dispense with "wasting" half a semester fielding questions about the existence of a divine Creator. Josh refuses, and Radisson challenges the younger man to give three lectures in which he must prove to the class the existence of God or risk a failing grade.
While the film will be dismissed as "Christian propaganda" by some, what surprised me about this effort is the amount of thought that was put into the script to reconcile the Bible with evolving, modern-day science. Josh isn't just a simple-minded believer who thinks the Earth was created 6,000 years ago in just under a week.
He's a Pre-Law major who actually hits the library, delves into books, and uses the Internet as a tool to address such matters as the Big Bang Theory and the Theory of Evolution. At the same time, the film features several subplots involving characters who exist in and around the campus that are going through their own crises of faith .
There's Ayisha (Hadeel Sittu), a Muslim student who tries to hide her emerging belief in Christ from her father; Amy (Trisha LaFache), a doubting Internet blogger who learns she has terminal cancer; Pastor Dave (David A.R. White), a local ordained minister who doesn't feel he's making much of a difference lately in his community; and Mina (Cory Oliver), a young Christian woman who finds her romantic relationship with Radisson at a crossroads because of their differing beliefs.
While the people who made "God's Not Dead" clearly have a strong faith in God, I do wish they had a bit more faith in their characters and story here. For instance, they shoehorn in a stunt cameo from Willie and Korie Robertson of the cable-TV hit "Duck Dynasty" that was just not needed here. They also give over the last 10 or so minutes of their film to a live performance of the very successful Christian rock/pop band the Newsboys.
The flick then becomes a protracted concert film at the point when all concerned should really be rolling the end credits, confident that they've delivered the message. A better climax would have had all of the players finding their way to Pastor Dave's Sunday sermon, not to the Newsboy's sold-out arena show.
Nevertheless, there is an earnestness to the film that appealed to me. I actually wish more spirituality would find its way into mainstream Hollywood films and TV series, not because I'm a Christian and want to push my beliefs through popular art.
It's just that sometimes I find when New York City is being threatened and thrashed by aliens or catastrophic weather or a giant creature from the bottom of the sea, it's unrealistic that you don't see a single character saying a prayer or even going the opposite route and questioning the Almighty as to "What the hell?!" Well, there is a plenty of prayer and questioning in "God's Not Dead" -- enough for four or five films, in fact. Clunky in spots? Yes. Preachy throughout? Lord, yes. Compelling to those who know what they are paying for? Without a doubt. I give it a 5.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)