by Tony Hansen
"Left Behind: World at War" has a reputation to uphold. It’s predecessors, "Left Behind" and "Left Behind 2: Tribulation Force," were such poor offerings that it’s reported even God, Himself, shook His head in disbelief before burying His face in His hands after a viewing of each film. Considering this, could a third film in the series even be made? Is God really so miraculously benevolent that the "Left Behind" producers would be allowed to give it another go? Well, yes and yes. Possibly proving His infinite wisdom, not only was a third "Left Behind" film created, but also, it is not horrible. It is simply bad. To paraphrase a hymn, and, of course, Bono: truly, He moves in mysterious ways.Left Behind: World at War (LB3) is the story of the beginning of Armageddon. Nicolae Carpathia (Gordon Currie), the anti-Christ, has become the central political power in the world through certain cunning machinations. In doing so, he has forced religion, particularly Christianity, into the underground. Now, the President of the United States, having been given information by his Vice-President/Best Friend Forever (BFF), attempts to stop Carpathia from attacking on U.S. soil with the help of Great Britain and, of course, Egypt. Meanwhile, the Tribulation Force, a ragtag group of bible/gun toting Christians, must deal with a disease that is sweeping through their numbers.
"2 Stars? Do you believe in miracles?"
Louis Gossett Jr., Academy Award winner for his role in An Officer and a Gentleman (Best Supporting Actor), stars as President Gerald Fitzhugh, a take no-nonsense leader who is 50% Commander-in-Chief, 50% commando, and 100% ridiculous. Kirk Cameron, the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films Saturn Award winner for his role in Like Father Like Son (Best Performance by a Younger Actor), reprises his role of Buck Williams, a character who, in previous films, is a dogged reporter but who, in this film, has no discernable position or job. Others return, as well, but their roles are so marginalized into insignificance that anyone who chooses to see LB3 as their first Left Behind experience will be baffled as to why these characters have any importance whatsoever.
Again, even with its deficiencies, this is not a horrible, no good, very bad film. In fact, LB3 is . . . gulp . . . a success in some ways. Unlike this film’s predecessors, for example, LB3 doesn’t try to proselytize overtly. It doesn’t lean on its faith, which tended to make the previous films stuffily pietistic. These films weren’t movies one would watch for fun. Instead, they were movies one would watch to solidify faith or with a non-Christian for possible conversion purposes. Because LB3 has at least a few secular goals, the film is at least watchable. Sure, it doesn’t always make rational moves and it’s not particularly enjoyable, but it’s certainly watchable.
And the watchability of the film can be credited to two people. First, director Craig R. Baxley needs to be recognized for his competent, albeit unremarkable, filmmaking style. In preparing LB3, the film’s producers must have said to themselves, “Our other two films were directed unexceptionally by a pair of no-names. This time, let’s shoot for the heavens and get someone who has directed both Carl Weathers and Brian Bosworth. In the director of Action Jackson and Stone Cold, we trust. Oh, and in God, we trust, as well.”
Clearly, LB3’s producers made the right move. The reason is obvious – Baxley knows how to choreograph/coordinate his action scenes. Or, perhaps, it is better stated this way: Baxley knows how to choreograph/coordinate $4 million worth of action scenes. Under Baxley’s direction, the film’s small budget shows, but it doesn’t distract. The film isn’t laughable. And for this, Baxley should be commended. Of course, it should be stated that Baxley might be completely adept at handling dramatic scenes, as well. But, the script doesn’t even afford him the chance. It’s far too maudlin and hyperbolic to elicit any passion or inspiration. It can’t be properly saved.
The other person responsible for lifting LB3 above the muck of suck is Lou Gossett Jr. Gossett is a likeable actor and in LB3 he gives the only performance worthy of being liked. Partly, this is because, again, nearly every other character in the film is completely insignificant. Only if one were to have seen the other films and actually left these viewings caring about characters like Rayford Steele (Brad Johnson) and his plucky daughter Chloe Steele (Janaya Stephens) would their scenes in this film feel important. Mostly, however, Gossett has a certain everyman charisma. Although it doesn’t fit his role as President Fitzhugh, it fits perfectly with his role as the film’s flawed protagonist. To be sure, President Fitzhugh is a hastily written character, but Gossett provides him with the necessary pathos-filled complexities.
And this is what’s remarkable about Left Behind: World at War. While the struggle between good and evil, right and wrong, Christ and Satan, takes place in the film, there are interesting struggles taking place outside the film. Can Lou Gossett Jr. make President Fitzhugh reasonably likeable? Can he imbue him with an intelligence and strength that isn’t always in the script? Will the decidedly Hollywood approach of Craig R. Baxley conquer the film’s Christian leanings? Will the film be accessible to a non-Christian audience? Surprisingly, the answer to these questions is “yes.” But the answer to the most important question, “Is Left Behind: World at War a good movie?,” is undoubtedly “no.”At least this time the film isn’t bad because of its poor Christian script. It’s bad because of its poor Hollywood script. God couldn’t possibly be offended.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=13449&reviewer=421
originally posted: 10/25/07 16:32:27