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Overall Rating
1.29

Awesome: 7.14%
Worth A Look: 0%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap92.86%

2 reviews, 2 user ratings


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Left Behind
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Gone Everybody"
1 stars

In "Leaving Las Vegas," the film that earned him a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar, Nicolas Cage played an alcoholic whose self-destructive tendencies caused him to deliberately attempt to destroy himself through one self-induced degradation after another. In hindsight, it appears that he was never quite able to fully shake that particular character because since then, he has inexplicably been trying to do the very same thing to himself in real life via a series of career choices that have gone beyond the merely baffling into the real of the completely inexplicable. "Con Air." "Gone in 60 Seconds." Both "National Treasure" movies. Both "Ghost Rider" movies." The remake of "The Wicker Man." "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." "Season of the Witch." "Seeking Justice." "Trespass." "Rage." (Bear in mind, these are the ones that received some form of general theatrical distribution--I have left out such barely released titles as "Stolen" and "The Frozen Ground.") Yes, there have been the occasional worthwhile efforts--films like "Bringing Out the Dead," "Adaptation," "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" and this year's wonderful "Joe"--that serve as reminders of his undeniable gifts as an actor and to be fair, I also have a soft sport for a couple of the above titles as well (I persist in my belief that the generally scorned "Wicker Man" remake is genuinely underrated and I continue to stand in awe at the over-the-top lunacy of "Drive Angry"). However, for the last couple of decades, Cage has coasted from one deeply dubious project to the next and while his well-publicized financial woes presumably played some part in his decision-making process, it almost feels as if he has been deliberately choosing the most ridiculous screenplays imaginable in a bizarre effort to destroy both his career and his reputation as one of the best and most inventive American actors of our age.

Well, if that is indeed the case, then Cage's long and inexplicable quest to hit rock bottom has finally come to an end with his latest effort, "Left Behind," easily the silliest and most incomprehensible entry in a filmography already crammed with enough such things to have killed ten ordinary careers. That may sound like an extremely bold statement for anyone to make, especially if they have seen the "Ghost Rider" films, but I am fairly confident that what I have said is true because this is one for the record books. Bringing together a singularly silly concept, a meat-and-potatoes narrative style that only rarely rises to the level of utility-grade, universally awful contributions from participants on both sides of the camera and more unintentional laughs to be had than can be found in most straightforward comedies, this is the kind of movie that is so breathtakingly incompetent in every imaginable way that there is not only a part of me that is perversely glad that I saw it, I almost want to see it again just to bask in its insanity once again. Put it this way--there are many possible words that one could use to describe it (and many of them will be deployed here) but "boring" will most likely not be one of them, along with "competent," "coherent" or "plausible-looking hairstyle."

"Left Behind," as some of you probably know, is an adaptation of the first of a series of best-selling evangelical Christian novels by Jerry B. Jenkins & Tim LaHaye centered on an Earth plunged into chaos following an event that appears to have been nothing less the Rapture, a precursor to the apocalypse. As those of you with longer memories and/or a pronounced taste for really bad filmmaking may recall, it also served as the basis for an extremely cheesy 1999 film starring the redoubtable Kirk Cameron that made enough money to inspire a couple of even chintzier direct-to-video sequels. As it turns out, one of the many people dissatisfied with those films was LaHaye himself and he sued to regain the screen rights with the hopes of relaunching it as a big-screen property.

This leads me with three things to ponder. First, having seen one of his films remade with the likes of Nicolas Cage, do you suppose that Kirk Cameron will now spearhead an effort to remake one of his films as retribution? (If so, here is hoping that he picks "Zandalee.") Second, considering that this version is arguably worse than the original take, does this mean that we can expect LaHaye to sue himself sometime down the line? Third, if he does, who do I contact at Court TV to beg them to televise the proceedings, especially if Cage winds up testifying?

But I digress. Cage plays--wait for it--Rayford Steele, an airline pilot who, as the film opens, has just decided to bail on a planned birthday celebration with his family--newly converted religious zealot wife Irene (Lea Thompson), obnoxiously secular college student daughter Chloe (Cassie Thomson) and a young son who really like God and baseball--to handle a flight to London that will allow him to continue to flirt with saucy flight attendant Hattie Burnham (Nicky Whelan), who is so inflamed by his questionable hair and more questionable performance that she is driven to undo her very top button. Anyway, after an airport confrontation with Chloe, whom he tries to buy off with U2 tickets that she refuses (which seems a bit harsh--it's is not like it was the Popmart tour), Rayford takes off to the wild blue yonder but partway during the flight, something happens that causes a number of people--including all the children--to simply vanish into thin air leaving behind empty clothes and confused people, an event that has apparently occurred throughout the entire world.

While Rayford tries to calm everyone down, contact the ground to find out what happened and avoid planes that are now hurtling through the sky without pilots, one of the passengers--a coked-out Lady Gaga lookalike explains to her remaining fellow passengers that this is indeed the Rapture and that the missing people have been transported to the Great Beyond--she knows all about this, she explains, because she went to a summer camp where the topic was all the rage among the campers. If the presence of a coked-out Lady Gaga lookalike lecturing about the Rapture strikes you as being just a tad difficult to believe, it should be said that she is merely part of an in-flight ensemble so screwy that I am convinced that they have been sitting in cryogenic storage since the end of the "Airport" franchise.

There is hunky news reporter Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murray), who got to flirt chastely with Chloe at the airport after she went into one of her anti-religion screeds against a total stranger. There is a business tycoon whose name probably isn't Tex but should be. There is a nerd offering up one outlandish sci-fi-related explanation for their predicament after another. There is a Muslim passenger who seems to have been included as a minor sop to all the other religions of the world. There is an angry midget (Martin Klebba) who seems to have been included because hey, why not? Then there is a hysterical young mother (Jordin Sparks) whose reaction to the disappearance of her child is both ludicrous beyond belief and indicates a serious lack in airport security that is only partially explained by the presence of perennial Olympic runner-up Lolo Jones as one of the airport gate attendants. Oh, Sparks' character is named "Shasta Carvell," which suggests that the authors came up with her moniker while feeling a little snacky.

Meanwhile, back on the ground, Chloe is reeling from the disappearance of her mother and little brother--you know, the ones who loved God--while trying to get home through a landscape filled with looters, crashing planes and extremely random purse snatchings. Eventually she comes across her family's minister, who explains the broad scope of what has happened and what is set to come. If you are wondering how a minister--especially one as well-versed as he--could still be around to explain things to the less-devout audience members instead of himself being raptured, the film does offer the kind of half-hearted explanation that only makes the scene stick out even more than it might have under normal circumstances. Finally, Chloe makes contact with her dad and attempts to help him make an emergency landing that serves as an example of that old dramatic maxim "If one introduces a long stretch of freeway closed for repairs in the first act, it needs to go off in the third."

In essence, "Left Behind" is sort of like what might result if a pulp novelist along the lines of Clive Cussler was inexplicably hired to pen one of those cheap little evangelically-minded comic book pamphlets that earnestly insist that anyone who doesn't think exactly like the people behind them are going to hell in the most unpleasant and dramatically implausible manner imaginable. However, in jamming together a third-rate disaster movie narrative with the eschatological equivalent of "Nyah--told ya so," the end result is a film that cannot possibly begin to satisfy anyone looking for a little entertainment to go along with their proselytizing. The screenplay by Paul Lalonde and John Petus is so flat of foot and tin of ear throughout that when Rayford tells a deliberately terrible joke about a vulture trying to board an airplane, it far and away constitutes the best writing in the entire film. Director Vic Armstrong is a longtime stunt coordinator and second-unit director, most famously for the James Bond movies, but utterly fails to generate any sense of excitement or suspense from even such theoretically nondenominational notions as being trapped in an airplane with nowhere to land. And while I have no fixed notions of what the Rapture and its immediate aftermath might look like for the survivors, I can only pray that if it does happen, it plays out in a more visually interesting manner than the cheesball depiction on display here.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a film filled with wildly unintentional laughs--not the self-conscious annoyances of overblown tripe like "The Room" but genuine, honest-to-god "WTF?" moments where you literally cannot believe your eyes or ears, "Left Behind" is like a gift from the bad movie gods. Like many of my colleagues, I was surprised to discover that the distributors were even holding an advanced press screening but I am eternally grateful that I did because it was one for the books in the way that it inspired more sustained laughter than any comedy that I can recall seeing in a long time. Between the goofball story, incredibly awkward dialogue ("If she is going to run off with another man, why not Jesus?") and characters that are ridiculous right down to their names (if I ever start going out on the town again, I suspect that I may use "Rayford Steele" as my club name), hardly a scene goes by without generating giggles of some sort, possibly even from those who might be attending because of a sincere belief in the story and its message. The best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) moment comes during the climax when Chloe, who has managed to miraculously regain cell phone contact with her dad, is trying to clear the freeway so that he can land the plane safely. Problem--he needs a bright light at one end of the ersatz runway so he knows where to attempt touching down. I will not reveal what her response is--though I really, really want to--but I will say that if this moment had appeared verbatim in the comedy classic "Airplane!," it would have gone down in history as one of the two or three funniest moments in that film and here, it isn't even trying to be amusing.

Speaking of not even trying, let us get back to Nicolas Cage. I still think that the guy is an enormous talent despite his incredibly spotty record of picking projects and I will even cop to enjoying some of his more outlandish selections--I remain firm in my fondness for "Drive Angry" and still consider the universally scorned remake of "The Wicker Man" to be an underrated and wildly misunderstood work. That said, I cannot for the life of me imagine what could have possibly induced him to sign on for this particular project. It couldn't have been for the money--judging from the cheap-looking nature of the final product, there couldn't have been that much available for him. I doubt if it could have been because of some deeply-held belief regarding the subject matter because, with the exception of his hair and a couple of line readings, this is one of his most somnambulistic turns to date. Whatever the reason, it is one of the most inexplicable moves in a career chock-full of them and if you look closely, you can almost see the thought bubble over his head at certain points reading "Man, why did I buy that thirteenth castle?" In that sense, perhaps "Left Behind" can one day be of value to people, though less as a theological lesson and more as a cautionary example of what can happen to good actors with bad financial and artistic judgement.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=26704&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/03/14 00:57:54
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User Comments

10/08/14 Monster W. Kung Nicolas Cage in a fundamentalist Christian movie about The Rapture... LOL! 1 stars
10/04/14 jervaise brooke hamster Nicolas Cage is great because he is straight. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  03-Oct-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 06-Jan-2015

UK
  N/A

Australia
  03-Oct-2014
  DVD: 06-Jan-2015




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