'God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness': Film Review

Less strident than its predecessors.

A legal battle ensues when a university seeks to evict a church in this third entry in the popular faith-based film series.

Considering that the whole point of religion is faith, Christian audiences seem to need a whole lot of reassuring. The third entry in the successful God's Not Dead series yet again makes the argument that God is, you know, not dead. It's beginning to feel as repetitive as Chevy Chase's declarations during the first season of Saturday Night Live that "Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead." But while God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness proves less fiery in its preaching than its predecessors, it's also a significantly duller offering. How could it not be, considering that its main plot element involves a courtroom battle over real estate?

Said real estate is St. James Church, presided over by series regulars Rev. Dave (David A.R. White, co-founder of the film's distributor Pure Flix), now unwisely upgraded to main character status, and his fellow pastor Rev. Jude (Benjamin Onyango). This installment begins shortly after the last one left off, with Rev. Dave released from prison after he was sentenced for refusing to provide the texts of his sermons to the government. He returns to his church, only to see it blown up in a gas main explosion that kills Rev. Jude.

The church was located on land belonging to Hadley University, a former religious institution now owned by the state. Despite the objections of its president (Ted McGinley), its board members (one of whom is played by Tatum O'Neal) decide the explosion provides the perfect opportunity to eject the church through eminent domain and build a student center. Rev. Dave asks for help in the ensuing legal battle from his estranged older brother Pearce (John Corbett), who, conveniently for dramatic purposes, is a thrice-divorced former believer who has lost his faith. During one of their many philosophical debates, Pearce points out, "Science has replaced superstition, the church has outlived its usefulness."

That the church hasn't outlived its usefulness is the main argument of this film and its two predecessors, although, to its credit, this installment is less didactic and melodramatic about it. Director-screenwriter Michael Mason even seems to acknowledge the criticism leveled at the earlier films when he has Pearce pointedly ask his brother, "You guys love to play the victim card, don't you?"

Various subplots are weaved into the mix, including ones involving a college student (Samantha Boscarino) whose breakup with her boyfriend over their opposing religious beliefs proves key to the mystery of who burned the church down, and Rev. Dave's burgeoning romantic relationship with Meg (Jennifer Taylor), who runs the local soup kitchen. Josh (Shane Harper), the college student hero of the first film in the series, makes a return appearance, to little dramatic effect. And once again, Rev. Dave exhibits a martyr complex; after being thrown in jail in the last film, he runs into trouble in this one when he attacks a student who's been identified as the arsonist via an anonymous text message.

The sort of film in which a lawyer approaching a judge during Mass to ask for a cease-and-desist order counts as a key dramatic moment, God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness attempts to mitigate stridency in order to make itself slightly more palatable to viewers beyond its target audience, but the result is simply tedious. The film benefits greatly from the presence of Corbett, who exudes such a natural likability that he makes everyone around him look better. Except, that is, Fox News' Jeanine Pirro and NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, who both make cameo appearances as themselves. Nobody, absolutely nobody, could make them look good.

Production company: Pure Flix Productions
Distributor: Pure Flix Entertainment
Cast: David A.R. White, John Corbett, Shane Harper, Ted McGinley, Jennifer Taylor, Tatum O'Neal, Gregory Alan Williams, Samantha Boscarino, Mike C. Manning
Director-screenwriter: Michael Mason
Producers: Michael Scott, David A.R. White, Elizabeth Travis, Alysoun Wolfe, Brittany Yost
Executive producers: Troy Duhon, Robert Katz, Jim Ameduri
Director of photography: Brian Shanley
Production designer: Mitchell Crisp
Editor: Joseph Sandoval
Composer: Pancho Burgos-Goizueta
Costume designer: Dana Konick

Rated PG, 106 minutes