Mark Reviews Movies

Left Behind (2014)


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Vic Armstrong

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Cassi Thomson, Chad Michael Murray, Nicky Whelan, Jordin Sparks, Lea Thompson

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements, violence/peril and brief drug content)

Running Time: 1:50

Release Date: 10/3/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 2, 2014

When millions of people around the world just disappear in an instant, it's probably time to start thinking outside the spectrum of logical thinking. Imagine it for a second: You're hugging someone, and the next moment, you're simply holding the clothes that person was wearing. The body is gone. You notice that there are piles of clothes scattered around you, too, yet you don't notice a single naked person scurrying around a corner or dashing through the door. There's a point in Left Behind when one person suggests that maybe the people who disappeared have become invisible. As dumb as the idea sounds, it is at least the correct kind of thinking in this situation.

The answer to the mystery of piles of clothes without a nude body in sight is obvious, although one must be in a certain frame of mind to discover it. The movie sets us up for that way of thinking early and often, so it's a bit confounding that the screenplay by Paul Lalonde and John Patus (based on the novel by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins) keeps the solution to its puzzle from us for as long as it does.

It's not as if the random woman quoting Bible verses at an airport, the mother worrying about the salvation of the souls of her family members, and a sign stating, "The End is here," are just random occurrences. They're foreshadowing, yes, but the only thing they're trying to hint at is the only thing the movie wants to communicate. Therein is the solution to the mystery of why Left Behind forswears its key revelation for as long as it does. Once it says the words aloud, the movie has nothing else to say until the sequel-setup of its last scene.

In the meantime, the characters do rudimentary mental gymnastics in trying to explain why millions of people vanished in a flash of light. The minimal plot features two parallel stories. Commercial airplane pilot Rayford Steele (Nicolas Cage) is preparing for a flight to London from New York on his birthday, and his daughter Chloe (Cassi Thomson) has arrived in town as a surprise.

While waiting for her father at the airport, Chloe meets Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murray), an "investigative reporter" of rock-star-level fame who writes about natural disasters and people's tendency to see them as "acts of God." After a heart-to-heart with his daughter, Ray goes to his flight, and Chloe goes home to meet her Bible-quoting mother Irene (Lea Thompson). Chloe escapes from a conversation about religion by taking her brother (Major Dodson) to the mall, and that's when a bunch of people there and on the flight vanish.

The reason is of a religious or, to be more specific, Biblical or, to be even more specific, evangelical Christian nature. The screenplay, which has had no problem having frank if simplistic discussions about religion, suddenly becomes bashful about religious matters until the remaining characters have exhausted every other possible explanation for the mass exodus. The remaining characters have some kind of personality or moral defectóreal or imagined. Ray has been flirting with a flight attendant (Nicky Whelan), and there's a woman with a drug addiction on the plane.

After that, though, we're really seeing the movie's agenda in who remains. Buck and Chloe (who runs around town searching for her brother as if he might just be playing a game of naked hide-and-seek) are openly skeptical of a certain type of belief, so obviously, they don't disappear. There's a pastor (Lance E. Nichols) who said the words but didn't fully believe them, and there's a devout Muslim man (Alec Rayme) because, apparently, it's not just a matter of belief but of belief in the "correct" thing.

The movie is technically preaching a message, but it's doing so by means of psychological abuse. It's not only that the characters who disappear are right but also that the people who remain are so wrong that they get to experience all kinds of allegedly terrifying events. We get small-scale riots and looting, a single-engine plane that crashes into Chloe's car at the exact moment she approaches it (Consider the odds on that one), and a climax in which Ray must land the plane with only the aid of someone who thinks that flashing the headlights of pickup truck into a wall of debris will help visibility. In other words, we might want to take offense at the our-way-or-no-way thinking of Left Behind, but the movie is just too silly, roundabout, and bungling to feel anything other than a little pity for it.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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