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The rapture won’t come soon enough for the unfortunate souls forced to suffer through Left Behind, the big-screen reboot of the direct-to-video, faith-based film series starring Kirk Cameron. Essentially playing like a spoof of ’70s-era disaster movies, this adaptation of the mega-selling books written by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye demonstrates that a bigger budget and a bigger star (Nicolas Cage) doesn’t necessarily make ridiculous material any more palatable.
After delivering its first Bible verse within the opening minutes, the film introduces us to its central characters: Rayford Steele (Cage), an airline pilot unhappy with his wife Irene’s (Lea Thompson) religiosity; his religion-skeptic daughter, Chloe (Cassi Thomson); and Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murray), a famous television news reporter who strikes up a flirtation with Chloe shortly before boarding her dad’s flight from NYC to London.
Chloe has arrived from college to celebrate her father’s birthday, only to discover that he’s about to embark on a transatlantic flight. Exacerbating her anger is his apparent closeness with a sexy flight attendant who practically clings to him at the airport.
Her suspicions are not unfounded, as Ray is indeed planning a dalliance with the comely blonde once they arrive in London, signaled by the U2 concert tickets he’s apparently arranged weeks in advance.
Not long into the flight, a bizarre event occurs. Numerous passengers, as well as a flight attendant and the co-pilot, mysteriously disappear, leaving behind only their clothes and personal belongings. We soon learn that the occurrence is happening across the globe, with millions of people miraculously vanishing, including Chloe’s mother and younger brother.
The film alternates between scenes taking place on the plane, with the left behind passengers understandably panicking, and Chloe desperately attempting to find her brother amid the ensuing chaos, which includes driverless cars and pilotless planes crashing all around her.
Realizing that both the co-pilot and the flight attendant were devout Christians, Ray soon figures out that what’s occurring is the event which his wife has long been predicting, with only children and true believers falling under its aegis. When an errant airplane sans pilots clips his aircraft’s wing, he’s faced with the task of returning his plane to JFK Airport (played none too convincingly by one in Baton Rouge) safely even as his fuel supply dips perilously low, as if the film had somehow morphed into Airport 2014.
Complicating his task is the motley assemblage of frantic passengers, including a devout Muslim (apparently only Christians get to go to heaven); the wife of an NFL quarterback who thinks that her husband has somehow engineered her daughter’s disappearance and begins waving a gun procured from a vanished air marshal; and an angry dwarf whose glowering outbursts seem mainly designed to provide comic relief. The only thing missing is Helen Reddy as a singing nun.
Meanwhile, Chloe, under the impression that her father’s plane has crashed, climbs to the top of a tower with the intention of doing herself in. But just as she’s about to jump she receives a cell phone call from her dad and Buck, who entrust her with finding a suitable place for the plane to land since all the nearby airports are closed. The plucky young woman goes about her task with incredible ingenuity, single-handedly clearing a debris-strewn highway and navigating the plane toward its destination with the handy compass app on her phone.
Awkwardly combining religious proselytizing with disaster-movie tropes, Left Behind, with its sub-par production values, howler-filled dialogue and terrible performances, fails miserably on every level. Cage, who in interviews has said he took the role at the urging of his pastor brother, seems virtually sedated throughout, even when his character is convinced that his plane is headed for certain doom.
The first entry of an intended franchise, the film only inspires hope that its creators will see the light before its sequels can be developed.
Production: Stoney Lake Entertainment
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Chad Micheal Murray, Cassie Thomson, Nicky Whelan, Lea Thompson, Jordin Sparks
Director: Vic Armstrong
Screenwriter: Paul Lalonde, John Patus
Producers: Ed Clydesdale, Paul Lalonde, Michael Walker
Executive producers: Christopher Sean Brown, Bill Busbice Jr., Jason Hewitt, Willie Robertson, J. David Williams, R. Bryan Wright
Director of photography: Jack N. Green
Editor: Michael J. Duthie
Production designer: Stephen Altman
Costume designer: Abby O’Sullivan
Composer: Jack Lenz
Casting directors: Dean E. Fronk, Donald Paul Pemrick
Rated PG-13, 110 minutes
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