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"LEFT BEHIND (2014)"
(2014) (Nicholas Cage, Cassi Thomson) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: An airline pilot, his college-aged daughter, a TV reporter and others must contend with people around them suddenly and simultaneously disappearing.
PLOT:
Chloe Steele (CASSI THOMSON) is on her home way from college to help celebrate the birthday of her airline pilot dad, Rayford (NICOLAS CAGE), with her mom, Irene (LEA THOMPSON), and younger brother, Raymie (MAJOR DODSON). Chloe doesn't get along with her mom due to the latter's newfound religious beliefs, and is disappointed that her dad has to work and fly from New York to London. She's particularly dismayed that he seems a bit too friendly with one of his flight attendants, the very attractive Hattie Durham (NICKY WHELAN).

After getting into an argument over religion with her mom, Chloe takes her brother to the shopping mall. At the same time, Rayford lifts off with Hattie and the rest of his crew, along with a planeload of passengers. Among them is Buck Williams (CHAD MICHAEL MURRAY), a TV reporter who met Chloe before his flight; Shasta Carvell (JORDIN SPARKS), a mother traveling with her daughter; and Hassid (ALEC RAYME), an Arabic man who must contend with looks of disdain from Melvin Weir (MARTIN KLEBBA), a little person with a chip on his shoulder due to his diminutive size.

All must contend with the simultaneous disappearance of various people not only on the plane, but also everywhere on the ground. As Chloe frantically tries to find her now missing brother, Buck helps Rayford and Hattie deal with the passengers. As they turn back for New York, they must not contend with a dwindling fuel supply and various system failures, but also the mystery of what's happened to those who suddenly disappeared.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
For many people who came of age in the 1980s, "rapture" is best equated to the song with that name by the band Blondie, especially since it was the first rap video to play on MTV and the first song that featured rapping to top the charts. For older people, "rapture" is another word to describe ecstasy, joy or delight, such as "The music filled him with rapture," although I can't say I've heard many folks use that term in everyday conversation (it's more often found in written form in novels with flowery narrative).

And then there are those among Christian believers who feel that rapture, or, more accurately, "the rapture," is when all believers in Jesus will rise into Heaven to avoid the End Times and God's seven-year period of passing judgment on the world to punish the corrupt evil-doers. Many have predicted dates for when this would happen, but so far all of them have been wrong.

That hasn't stopped a cottage industry from popping up to take advantage of such warnings and fears, and one of the most popular of those has been the "Left Behind" series of 16 best-selling novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Those end up inspiring the 2000 movie "Left Behind," and its two sequels, 2002's "Left Behind II: Tribulation Force" and 2005's "Left Behind: World at War," along with a 2006 video game and several sequels to that.

As far as I can tell, only the first film -- starring Kirk Cameron of "Growing Pains" fame -- actually played in theaters, and it bombed there (grossing just a little more than $4 million) as well as with nearly all critics, including yours truly.

Beyond its "bang them on the head with a hammer" overly preachy approach, I found that its biggest problem was "that it's pretty bad in every way imaginable from an artistic sense" while it "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" and "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."

Considering that near universally agreed-upon observation, it's a head-scratcher as to why anyone would want to remake the film. Yet, since so-called "re-booting" is all the rage in moviemaking nowadays, the powers that be decided we needed yet another version of this tale. And thus we now have Nicolas "I Used to be a Respected Actor" Cage taking over the Cameron part in John Patus and returning scribe Paul Lalonde's new adaptation of the novels' tale.

Alas, while the special effects and acting might be slightly better than the first time around, and the pic isn't as blatantly preachy, the overall end result isn't that much better. Perhaps wisely, however, the plot has been truncated down from that of the original and has jettisoned all of the goofy UN Secretary-General is the Antichrist elements. Now, it's really just two interconnected plot threads of what happens when lots of people suddenly vanish into thin air.

The first involves a college student (Cassi Thomson) who's at odds with her mother (Lea Thompson) and the latter's newfound religious beliefs. When she can't take it anymore, Chloe heads off to the mall with her younger brother (Major Dodson), only to be shocked when he and other shoppers vanish in a blink of the eye. She then spends the rest of the film looking for him, returning home to find her mom gone as well, and then wondering if she should rethink her stance on religion.

The other features Cage as an airline pilot who's been having an affair with a flight attendant (Nicky Whelan) but must contend with his co-pilot and various passengers likewise suddenly disappearing. An investigative journalist (Chad Michael Murray) onboard is also perplexed by this development, while various passengers (Martin Klebba, Alec Rayme and Jordin Sparks) react in different ways to this unexpected occurrence. When another plane clips his, Rayford must then overcome various difficulties to get his jumbo jet back safely on the ground, all while coming to the realization that his wife was right about The Rapture.

While there's some potential there (in terms of the girl searching for her missing brother and the man trying to land a crippled plane), one really can't take Cage seriously anymore, especially in terms of straight drama. Had he played this along the lines of some of his overly eccentric and hyped up characters of the past, that at least would have made things more interesting, but he and everything revolving around him are missing the gravitas to make us care. It doesn't help that former stunt double turned director Vic Armstrong's haphazard cutting back and forth between the two storylines doesn't do either of them or the collective offering any good.

While I'm guessing they'd never even consider helming a story like this, the mind ponders what the likes of a Christopher Nolan or David Fincher could do with such material featuring good actors in terms of mood, atmosphere and general dread. I imagine they could deliver a film that would creep out a lot of viewers and get them thinking what if this is something one should be worried about in real life.

This version of "Left Behind" doesn't come anywhere close to that, and while it might not be as cringe-worthy as the Kirk Cameron version, it still leaves a lot to be desired. And with Chloe stating at the end, "I'm afraid this is just the beginning," we should all be very afraid indeed. It rates as a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed September 25, 2014 / Posted October 3, 2014


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