by Tony Hansen
It’s difficult to believe that Jesus, Himself, would like "Left Behind 2: Tribulation Force." After all, He is traditionally seen as the definer of all that is good. And, unfortunately, placing “good” and “Left Behind 2: Tribulation Force” in the same sentence is oxymoronic. Clearly, replacing “good” with “ridiculous” or “asinine” seems sensible. Imagine this sentence: “Left Behind 2: Tribulation Force" (or "LB2," as the kids are calling it) is a condescending and laughably ridiculous piece of asinine celluloid. Makes sense, doesn’t it? If it doesn’t, then clearly you haven’t seen "Left Behind 2: Tribulation Force."Viewing LB2 from a strictly action picture perspective, the plot certainly looks good on paper. Just check out this premise: a take-no-prisoners investigative reporter named Buck Williams and his hot shot pilot friend, Ray Steele (Brad Johnson), join together to fight the forces of evil in a dystopian future. Sounds pretty awesome, right? Sadly, it’s not. Sadly, Ray Steele is nothing more than your average airline pilot with a “hot shot” stature coming strictly from chiseled good looks. And, most regrettably, Kirk Cameron plays Buck Williams. So, that’s that.
"Kirk Cameron induces Groin Pains"
Of course, the film isn’t really an action film. It’s a Christian action film. Ray Steele and Buck Williams are followers of Christ. Naturally, they would use the power of prayer before even considering using the power of bullets. The force of evil in the world is the new leader of the U.N., named Nicolae Carpathia (Gordon Currie), who galvanizes all nations with the belief that religion divides and unity comes from secularism. And, oh yeah, he is also the Anti-Christ. Thus, Steele and Williams must work together, with other members of their Christian gang, to open the eyes of the world and prepare every nation for the Second Coming of Christ. Altogether, the film is, literally, preaching to the converted. Even though the main character’s names seem to come from a collaboration between Dirk Diggler and Reed Rothchild, LB2’s chief characteristic is that it’s made specifically for followers of Jesus Christ. It’s made for those who believe in the end of days. In particular, it’s made for people who believe that they are witnessing, in LB2, a piece of historical fiction that has not yet become history. It’s not a film; it’s a prophecy.
The problem is that LB2 is a film, but it’s not a very good one. This may seem like an unfair statement to some. Some may wonder if judging, what is essentially a religious film, on technical grounds or typical standards is reasonable. The truth is that such standards are essential because if the filmmakers would like to the film work as a missionary tool, as is suggested, it must first simply work as a movie. It doesn’t. From questionable casting to poor plotting, the film is built on a foundation of sand. It’s a rotten mustard seed. Kirk Cameron, for example, is absolutely laughable in the role of a hard-nosed journalist. He has little charisma, both in the film itself and in his television broadcasts within the film, and his heroic presence is miniscule at best. Truly, a film is in trouble when a supporting actor brings little credibility to his part. Unfortunately for LB2, Cameron plays the lead. If it’s accurate that films live or die with the performances of their main actors, then LB2 was dead on arrival.
Another injurious aspect to LB2 is the film’s central conceit that Christians are the only hope for mankind. Implausibly, Christians, in LB2, are nothing more than a ragtag group of rebel rousers. As many have been taken into heaven during the Rapture, the numbers of the remaining are few. So few remain, apparently, that the entire world has forgotten about those funny ideas the crazy old Christians had about the end of the world. For whatever reason, no one sees anything strange about the rise of Carpathia and his insistence that organized religion end. This prophetic Christian knowledge has been mysteriously lost.
And those few who do have this information are so self-righteous it’s no wonder that their conversion rate seems to be so low. Consistently, throughout the film, Christians are belittling those of other faiths, and the film, itself, takes the tone of condescension. At one point, in a telling sequence, Buck Williams even criticizes a man who recently lost his family in the Rapture. He calls the man a liar and an adulterer, among other things, and in a later scene that same man is shown to be at the end of his rope and suicidal. The man survives, but only after being talked into becoming a Christian.
This entire affair highlights, perhaps, the most detrimental aspect of the film – it’s inherent message of the saving power of Christianity. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with Christian cinema. Undoubtedly, many films have delivered their spiritual messages with aplomb. Whether it’s the brutal, eye-opening sadism of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ or the tenderness of the pre-The Last Temptation of Christ Jesus films, spirituality can be delivered in the cinema. LB2’s difficulties come from fact that it can, and often does, use its spiritual beliefs as a copout. When Ray Steele is asked to become Carpathia’s personal pilot, instead of creating an environment where power plays decide Steele’s future, it’s clearly implied that prayer gets Steele the job. Where’s the suspense in that? Where’s the needed creativity when any problem can be solved through the power of God? This might be a good thing in life, but it doesn’t make for compelling cinema.Altogether, the poor casting, the lapses in logic, the condescension, and the undercutting of suspense, combine to form a film that is less than divine. While it may reaffirm the faith of many Christians, it may also ruin the viewer’s faith in Christian filmmaking. Far from cinema, it’s a piece of proselytizing propaganda. If this is the way the world ends, we’ll probably pass out from boredom along the way.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=6501&reviewer=421
originally posted: 05/25/07 11:42:14