Left Behind (2014) / Fantasy-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some thematic elements, violence/peril and brief drug content.
Running Time: 110 min.
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Chad Michael Murray, Cassi Thomson, Nicky Whelan, Lea Thompson, Martin Klebba, Jordin Sparks
Director: Vic Armstrong
Screenplay: Paul Lalonde, John Patus (based on the novel by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins)
Review published October 6, 2014
Nicolas Cage (Joe, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) stars as philandering airline pilot Rayford Steele, who is about to steer a routine flight from New York to London, neglectful of the fact that his daughter Chloe (Thomson, "Switched at Birth") is in the airport visiting from college and wants desperately to see him on his birthday. Good old dad leaves Chloe with Bible-thumping mom Irene (Thompson, Back to the Future Part III), whom Chloe blames for the estrangement in the marriage due to her newfound judgmental preaching of the world of God, but not before daughter meets him to say hello and goodbye, while also flirting with hunky and famous investigative reporter Buck Williams (Murray, Fruitvale Station), who is set to board the flight. Williams doesn't know that he's about to get the scoop of a lifetime when several passengers on board vanish without a trace, and they find out that millions on the ground below have the same mysterious fate.
Nicolas Cage's career slide continues to plunder new depths with Left Behind, a faith-based film adapting 1995's first of a popular series of faith-based novels, from authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, that describes what life might be like for the people left behind on Earth after devout Christians are taken to Heaven during the Rapture. It's actually a reboot of a series of mostly direct-to-video films starring Kirk Cameron that kicked off in 2000.
The premise of Left Behind is actually quite interesting, so the potential is certainly there for a bit of a mix of destruction-porn mixed with sheer anarchy, as the good non-devout people left behind have to figure out a way to live in a world that's increasingly becoming Hell on Earth. It's too bad that the premise is coated with a layer of cheese so thick, all of the mice in the world put together probably couldn't nibble their way to something of genuine substance underneath it all. It's like a made-for-basic-cable movie, relying only on its premise and ability to get born-again Christians to tune in. It's a little late to the game, as the similarly based "The Leftovers", based on Tom Perrotta's novel, has already made a TV appearance on HBO, with far better results.
Unfortunately, as directed by veteran stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong (Army of One), the entire project is hamstrung by a clear lack of adequate production values, clunky lensing, bland camera work, and one of the worst scores you'll probably hear in a movie that gets a wide release in 2014. In other words, despite a few professional actors in the mix, this is amateur hour all the way. Even with the actors, none of them seem to be able to emote properly the sheer terror and rabid freaking out that a missing loved one would cause them to undergo. Sure, there are guns drawn and a lot of face-to-face stare downs, but none of them ring true in the moment.
The character work is absolutely abysmal, with each motley role playing to gross stereotypes (the little person, the Muslim, the clueless old biddy, and the unhinged, hysterical wife -- where is Leslie Nielsen when you need him?). There isn't much for Cassi Thomson to do on Earth but traverse a veritable obstacle course through scenes of rioting in the streets, going into places like a hospital maternity ward for no other purpose than to let us know that all of the babies have been saved to Heaven due to their innocence (this begs the question: what age is the cut-off for innocents?)
And the one thing that Cage fans might hope for -- scenes of hammy and maniacal moments of him going freak-out crazy -- are pretty much ignored as we get to see him mostly look out of a cockpit window trying to get a signal on his cell phone to alert someone in New York that their turn-around flight is low on fuel and they need a free and clear landing strip. Ho hum -- the beginning of the apocalypse never seemed so dull. "Otto Pilot" from Airplane! delivers more engagement for the audience than Cage does here.
The only scenes that strike any sort of chord are the external aerial shots of the airplane in peril, but those beats come too few and too far between to deliver the nail-biting tension required. By the time of the forced landing, in which Cassi must run the gauntlet of movie clichés to make it all happen (a bulldozer, a gasoline truck, and an amazing one-swipe compass phone app are among the highlights), the entire film is reduced to nothing but laughability at how abhorrently ridiculous it is. At least the film occasionally finds a sense of humor about itself, which makes a sure turkey at least modestly palatable for a potential so-bad-it's-almost-good experience.
The ending leaves open the door to a sequel, the notion of which will likely to cause many of us to pray for the Rapture to actually happen, if for no other reason that the makers of this film will vanish before they can deliver a follow-up.
©2014 Vince Leo