Let me start off by saying that this isn't the highly popular and successful God's Not Dead, which--bonus!--featured the Newsboys. This movie also obviously had a bigger budget than The Encounter, though I'm not so sure it has as big a heart as that little film. It didn't have the emotional impact of The Passion of the Christ, nor the beauty and excitement of The Bible as presented by the History Channel. Both of those films, too, left Hollywood dazed and unable to comprehend their success with the public. I did find this version much better done than the original Left Behind, which was released 14 years ago, with Kirk Cameron (who, as most know, is a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ) as reporter Buck Williams.
Didn't read the series the movie's based on? That's okay; I only read one, myself, and that was Glorious Appearing. Still, I was very excited about this new Left Behind coming out. I also know from surfing the Internet that some Christians were suspicious of the choice to cast Nicolas Cage in the role of Captain Rayford Steele. (Now how's THAT for a romance hero name! Ha! Sorry, I couldn't resist.) I had no such problem because my husband and I have always liked him as an actor. Yes, he plays some crazies at times, but Nicolas Cage has always had this knack for playing characters with a quiet sadness about them, a touch of sweetness. If you get the chance, rent Moonstruck, It Could Happen to You, or Peggy Sue Got Married, and see if he doesn't make you fall in love with his character. Even in some of his later works, that vulnerable and tender quality is there.
And it's there in this movie, too...once we get past the Captain Romeo of the Skies portion.
Basically, this story is about an airline pilot whose daughter, Chloe (played here by Cassi Thompson) comes home to surprise him for his birthday. This family's been through a lot of changes, and it seems to have been brought about by Mrs. Steele's (the lovely Lea Thompson in that role) acceptance of the Lord as her Savior. She has only been a Christian for a year, and supposedly that has caused problems between her and Captain Romeo, though the writers don't do an adequate job of depicting that, since Ray Steele is very respectful when talking about his wife. He even got chuckles from our audience last night when he said (paraphrased), "If she had to leave me for another man, why not Jesus?"
Mom's relationship with Christ DOES form a wedge between her and her daughter. We don't know what Chloe's actually majoring in; we're just told she's in college. At the airport she meets Buck Williams, who's catching the plane that Dad's flying. That conversation reveals some things about both characters and the plot. Chad Michael Murray did a great job in the role originally played by Kirk Cameron. As Christians, both I and my husband were taken aback by a scene at the very beginning involving a Christian woman looking to debate Buck about current events and how they relate to the end times. Chloe "defends" him, though both women come off as petty and trying to one-up each other, and for a supposedly Christian film, we're given a "crazy Christian lady" straight out of a Stephen King novel. It seemed mocking in nature, and just didn't feel right.
But anyway, Dad takes the flight and misses his b-day celebration, but he's really having a secret tryst to London with his middle-age crisis fling, Hattie Durham. (Buck Williams; Rayford Steele. Why does the gorgeous, flirtatious, young blonde have a name like "Hattie?" Do you know anybody with the name "Hattie" under 75 years old?) But let's go on. Chloe has an argument with Mom, who DOES come across as a sincere and loving Christian who wants her family to be saved, and all of us have had similar conversations with our loved ones, so that was very realistic. But Chloe is not ready to make that decision; she gets angry and goes out for a while, taking her younger brother (Ramie?) with her to the mall. Her brother's a little guy, she's about 20, 21 or so, and their brief relationship is loving and a sweet part of the movie. Dad's about 37,000 feet up in the air, and both he and Kirk--sorry, Buck! I still missed the lovable Kirk Cameron in this!--are on their way to London.
Then the Lord takes His bride from the earth, and that includes babies, kids and those believers who are ready. Incidentally, some non-Christian reviewers had a real problem with that, saying, in effect, "God takes all those goody-goody Christians and leaves the rest of us to fend for ourselves during the tribulation." I should also add, some believers don't believe in the Rapture, or they believe it will be mid-Trib, post-Trib, etc. Here's how to remedy all that: Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and JUST BE READY. "So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!" -- Luke 21:28, NLT. Just in case, BE READY.
That's when Left Behind goes into full swing. I won't spoil anything for you, even if you've seen the original, because this doesn't totally follow the original. There are some light, humorous moments provided by one particular passenger, and one scene with Jordin Sparks that makes no sense at all, which seems to have been written in just to give Jordin Sparks something to do. She does look beautiful, though, and she sings the closing song.
All in all, I'm going to give Left Behind 3 1/2 stars out of 5. Despite some of its problems, it does entertain, Nicolas Cage does give a solid performance, as do Cassi Thompson and Chad Michael Murray, and the little that we see of Lea Thompson. As a Christian, it also does manage to make you take a moment from this physical world we're living in, with all its strife, suffering, and violence, and it reminds you to stand and look up, because the Lord is coming back. That makes it a movie worth seeing. One last note: It was, by far, MUCH better than the drippingly sweet and poorly done, Heaven is For Real.
And for a more in-depth review, which was also fair, funny, and well done, check out Christian Geek Central's video.