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Movie Review: Left Behind (2014)

Arguably the biggest movie curiosity of 2014 has arrived and surprisingly hasn’t gone straight to video. Based on how it plays, it could have premiered on the SYFY Channel, in between airings of “Sharktopus” and “Sharknado 2: The Second One.”

The irresistible pairing of Oscar winner Nicolas Cage and a faith based film company has resulted in a remake of “Left Behind.” The Jerry Jenkins/Tim LaHaye books, in which passengers on a plane discover much of the world’s population has disappeared, were published in 1994. They remain an enormously popular series, despite being a blatant rip-off of Stephen King’s “The Langoliers,” published in 1990

In 2000, a Kirk Cameron/Brad Johnson film adaptation was released and forgotten, even by its intended audience. Now, director Vic Armstrong (whose sole credit is a straight to video Dolph Lundgren vehicle) helms a Mike Seaver-free re-telling that might become the unbeatable camp classic of 2014.

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Portraying the apocalyptic events from the book of Revelation should make for a compelling movie, especially since its mostly set on an airliner piloted by Captain Cage. I’m a huge fan of the actor, whose overall filmography demonstrates versatile choices and a collection of great performances. Sadly, of late, his bad movies are outweighing the good ones. Even worse, Cage admitted in print to applying his “mega-acting” to some film roles, giving his detractors more ammo at the rarely-subtle performer. In “Left Behind,” Cage keeps his wild side under wraps and, surprisingly, invests real feeling into his role. Playing a womanizing pilot and neglectful father, Cage is good under the circumstances.

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His co-stars come off like amateurs in a high school play next to Cage, who remains interesting to watch. Everything around Cage’s work is sub-par, as the screenplay (not penned by LaHaye or Jenkins) is full of painfully clichéd patter, the filmmaking is serviceable, and the music score often sounds composed by a church praise and worship team.

The delightful, seldom seen Lea Thompson has a small role as Cage’s estranged wife. After putting in a sunny appearance, she is raptured out of the movie. If only Cage were as lucky.

Twenty minutes in, I wondered if the film had started. It initially seems like a movie about people who converse at an airport, but without the snap, intrigue and professionalism visible in the set up of Wes Craven’s “Red Eye.” Long, dull stretches are among the movie’s biggest problems. Once the Rapture starts, so does the unintentional hilarity. I convulsed with laughter when the film’s heroine managed to not only dodge a driver-less car (whose owners have been beamed up to Heaven) but also a pilot-less airplane in a mall parking lot. Similar scenes in “This Is The End” were portrayed with more tension and better special effects.

The first class section of Cage’s plane is quite a place. The passengers are, I kid you not, a sassy young girl, her gun-toting mom(!), a Muslim, a tabloid reporter, an angry little person (who gets tossed like a Frisbee in his final scene), a fat guy in a suit, and a conspiracy nerd. Stewardess, may I sit in the non-caricature section?

The expected proselytizing is mostly gone after the set up. With that out of the way, the story becomes a how-will-they-land airport thriller, the kind “Airplane!” skewered decades ago.

left_behind poster

In a year that gave us the exasperatingly awful “God’s Not Dead,” the nearly unwatchable Kirk Cameron baseball clunker “Mercy Rule,” the bland “Heaven is For Real” and the lavish, ambitious but bonkers “Noah,” here comes another embarrassment in the so-called Year of the Religious Films. I want them to work but, with few exceptions, faith-based films are reliably terrible. Film lovers, like myself, who relish cinema that can passionately and creatively express faith, are often stuck with mediocre, poorly crafted and forgettable stinkers that only “preach to the choir,” as if the choir would sit through these movies.

Review Overview

Overall

MOVIEWatch

We get Ridley Scott's Moses re-telling, "Exodus: Gods and Kings" in two months. I expect big things from Scott. However, few intentional 2014 comedies made me laugh as hard as this one.

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About Barry Wurst II

Barry Wurst II
Barry Wurst II is a senior editor & film critic at MAUIWatch. He wrote film reviews for a local Maui publication and taught film classes at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs (UCCS). Wurst also co-hosted podcasts for Screengeeks.com and has been published in Bright Lights Film Journal and in other film-related websites. He is currently featured in the new MAUIWatch Podcast- The NERDWatch.

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