'God's Not Dead 2': Film Review
A schoolteacher goes on trial for mentioning Jesus in her classroom in this sequel to the hit 2014 faith-based film.
Can we all agree, believers and atheists alike, to concede that God is not dead? It seems a minor capitulation, considering that the reward will be that there are no more God's Not Dead movies. Two years ago, the original faith-based film grossed an astounding $62 million (on a $2 million budget), so it didn't take a prophet to foresee that there would be a sequel. It comes in the form of the imaginatively titled God's Not Dead 2, which doesn't exactly leave the audience hanging in suspense about the outcome.
Yes, we're once again treated to a polemical drama attempting to demonstrate that Christians are under attack in this country, and are indeed, as one seemingly peace-loving character in the film puts it, "at war." Dare to believe, the film suggests, and you will be subject to persecution. Be careful not to moan, "God, this is a bad movie" while watching it, for fear that the ushers will promptly have you thrown in jail.
The straw man argument devised by screenwriters Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon involves a caring high school teacher, Grace (Melissa Joan Hart, apparently making up for once portraying a teenage witch), who responds to a student's (Hayley Orrantia) question about Jesus by comparing his teachings to those of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. Unfortunately, she makes the mistake of briefly quoting Scripture in the process, leading all holy hell to break loose.
The school administration, including the principal played by Robin Givens, immediately grills poor Grace about her indiscretion, with even her union representative turning on her.
"What were you thinking, Grace?" she chides.
When Grace refuses to back down, she enlists the help of a young lawyer (Jesse Metcalfe), a nonbeliever, whose essential goodness is indicated by his fabulous dimples. He finds himself in a legal battle against the ACLU, here depicted as an organization only slightly more worthwhile than the Nazi Party, whose lawyer, Pete Kane, is determined to prove once and for all that God is dead. He's played by Ray Wise, who actually seems more evil here than when he killed Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks.
Cue the courtroom battle, which despite the filmmakers' aspirations doesn't exactly rise to the level of the Scopes Monkey Trial. The legal arguments presented are all over the map, from Grace's lawyer first attempting to demonstrate that she wasn't proselytizing before switching tactics to prove that Jesus was an actual historical figure. Thus begins testimony by a procession of real-life authors, including one former detective who's examined the gospels through the prism of determining the veracity of eyewitness testimony. Why not simply emulate the climax of Miracle on 34th Street and prove Jesus' existence by dumping sacks of letters addressed to him on the judge's desk?
This follow-up is loosely tied to the original via the presence of several returning characters, including the affable Pastor Dave (David A.R. White, the co-founder of the film's distribution company, Pure Flix Entertainment); his African colleague, Pastor Jude (Benjamin A. Onyango); investigative journalist Amy (Trisha LaFache), whose cancer is in remission since she found God; Chinese exchange student Martin (Paul Kwo), here angrily slapped by his father after telling him that he's become a convert, and the Christian pop band the Newsboys, seen rallying their fans to Grace's cause at an arena concert.
Among the performers who pop up are Pat Boone, laying on the avuncular charm as Grace's folksy grandpa; Ernie Hudson (looking like he'd much rather be out ghostbusting) as the trial judge; the late Fred Thompson, as a preacher who warns his colleagues that the government is demanding that they turn in their sermons for approval; and, playing himself, Mike Huckabee, who probably should have devoted less effort to making cameo movie appearances and more to his presidential campaign.
Pounding its agenda with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, God's Not Dead 2 will no doubt please its target audience. Everyone else will be left wondering why its fans seem to be suffering from such a persecution complex.
Production: Pure Flix Productions
Distributor: Pure Flix Entertainment
Cast: Melissa Joan Hart, Jesse Metcalfe, Hayley Orrantia, Ray Wise, Robin Givens, David A.R.White, Ernie Hudson, Fred Thompson, Pat Boone
Director: Harold Cronk
Screenwriters: Chuck Konzelman, Cary Solomon
Producers: Elizabeth Hatcher-Travis, Brittany Lefebvre, Michael Scott, David A.R. White, Russell Wolfe
Executive producers: Troy Duhon, Robert Katz
Director of photography: Brian Shanley
Production designer: Mitchell Crisp
Editor: Vance Null
Costume designer: Cami Nemanich
Composer: Will Musser
Casting: Billy DaMota, Dea Vise
Rated PG, 121 minutes