And the most subtle title of the year award goes to… Kevin Sorbo, Shane Harper, David A. R. White and Dean Cain star in God’s Not Dead.
Director – Harold Cronk
Screenplay – Cary Solomon & Chuck Konzelman
Based on the book God’s Not Dead by Rice Brooks
Producer – Michael Scott, Russell Wolfe, David A. R. White & Anna Zielinski
Rated PG for thematic material, brief violence and an accident scene
Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper) is a freshman college student, studying pre-law, who takes Philosophy 150 with Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) as a humanities gen-ed requirement. Right off the bat, Professor Radisson, a devout atheist, states “God is dead” and has his class write that on paper to turn into him. Josh, a devout Christian, objects to doing so.
Oh, boy. I see a conflict starting to arise.
Since Josh is unable to do what the professor wants, Radisson gives him an ultimatum: in order to pass the class, he has to prove to his classmates and convince them of the antithesis. That God’s not dead.
Dude, it just dawned on me. That’s where the title comes from.
Okay, all joking aside, I should preface this review by saying that I am a Christian. Been one most of my life. However, I also love movies and love reviewing them, and I’m doing no one any favors by giving this film a favorable bias just ’cause I’m a Christian. I don’t like saying this, but the fact is, most Christian-themed movies are junk. Generically written, poorly acted junk with messages that are so heavy-handed, even Jesus Christ’s ministry seems understated. Unfortunately, the trend continues here.
The big problem with this film is that obviously it’s all about the message for the filmmakers, but then what results ’cause of that is flat, cardboard, stereotype characters just for the sake of pushing the message. The atheist is an arrogant jackass, the Christian is the victim and then everyone else that surrounds them clutter up the screen as their own respective stereotype.
Between the characters in this film and Divergent this week, there’s enough cardboard to house all the homeless in America.
Shane Harper seems like a likeable guy, and he does a decent job with what’s given him. It’s a performance that’s neither great nor bad. Kevin Sorbo, on the other hand, overplays it to the nth degree. I mean, on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being even hardcore atheist Richard Dawkins saying, “Dude, lighten up just a bit.”, he’s at like a 72. Sorbo’s character has his own personal motivations for being the way he is, but these two are written in such generalized ways that, aside from a few genuinely funny moments in the second debate, it’s hard to feel compelled in any way when they’re debating each other.
By the way, why isn’t Josh reporting any of this? As much as he gets harassed by Radisson (like in the clip up above) he could get enough civil liberties litigation against him to make his head spin.
David A. R. White (who co-founded Pure Flix Entertainment, the production company that put this film together) plays the local minister that could’ve had something develop between him and Josh and the writers should’ve kept the focus on him mentoring the kid. That only lasts for one scene, though, and from there we end up getting a visiting African missionary and a recurring gag involving Pastor Dave’s car and the rental cars always breaking down on him. Apparently, they thought it was funny.
The remaining cast is a wide array of characters that either have no place in the film at all or leave me with questions. First, there’s Josh’s girlfriend, a Christian herself who’s still angry at him for choosing to debate his professor as it could jeopardize his major. It’s not so much her “don’t defend your faith” stance with her as it is just what exactly did Josh see in such a bossy girl? There’s also Professor Radisson’s wife who’s, oddly enough, a devout Christian. If she knew what her husband believes and vice versa for her husband, why would either of them get involved with each other? Why is the Muslim girl character forced to wear a headscarf by her traditionalist father, yet jeans, t-shirts and carrying an iPod are okay?
Why is it that guitarist Jody Davis of the Newsboys is surprised that a drummer could make a rather poignant statement? That’s right, fellow drummers. I’m sticking up for us!! We all know we have the power to make everyone in the band look like idiots by throwing the rhythm off by just an eighth of a beat.
Even more detracting are the superfluous characters here. There’s a left-leaning “ambush” journalist who interviews Willie and Korie Robertson ’cause I guess so the film can promote Duck Dynasty. I got nothing against the Robertsons personally, but what exactly do they have to do with this film? Dean Cain plays easily the most callous businessman in the known universe, who’s also in a relationship with the aforementioned journalist. How callous is he, you ask? When his girlfriend reveals she has cancer, his response is pretty much, “This wasn’t part of our plan!!”, and then breaks up with her.
Yes, I just got off the phone with cancer and it wanted me to tell you that it sincerely apologizes for being such an inconvenience and it’s gonna leave right away.
Last of the bunch is the Christian-rock band Newsboys, who’s only in this film ’cause someone has to tie all these random characters and subplots together. You know, the obligatory climactic concert scene that everyone magically shows up at.
Yes, I know. It’s about the message overall. I’m sure there are other Christians out there ready to label me a heretic or the antichrist for not giving this film an A+, but a bad movie is a bad movie regardless of whether it’s Christian-themed or not. Sure, it’s not like I was expecting Ben-Hur or The Passion of the Christ levels of epicness, although there was a moment at the final debate where the students rise up stating, “God’s not dead!”, and I was waiting for one of them to stand up and proudly declare, “I am Spartacus!!!!”. Is it too much to ask for some competent writing and fleshed out characters, though?
Look at the parables Jesus told. Probably the most well known is the story of the prodigal son. It’s simple, to the point and never overstated. The boy grows jaded of his life, leaves his father to sow his wild oats, feels regret, comes back and the father welcomes him home with open arms. It’s a subtle message, but even in its subtlety you could pick away themes of lost faith, redemption, grace, mercy, the bond of family, and the fact that father and son are metaphors for God and Christians. It’s a simple story that carries a powerful message without the heavy-handed preaching. It’s not hard to do.
Films like these are always hard for me to review ’cause those involved here have hearts in the right place and intentions that are pure. As I said up above, though, a bad film is a bad film, and I can’t in good conscience recommend a film I feel is poorly made. There are a few decent performances, but the meandering subplots, flat characters and the way the filmmakers feel they have to hold the viewer’s hand and spell out the message for them while beating them upside the head with it detracts from the message they’re wanting to present. If you’re looking for a more recent spiritual-themed film that lets the message come naturally to the viewer, look up Gimme Shelter with Vanessa Hudgens, a film I recommended.
If this ends up being my final review, it’s ’cause I was struck dead.
I give God’s Not Dead a D (★).