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Left Behind (2014)

Rapture Sheet

Left Behind is an amazing film. By "amazing", I mean "awful". And by "awful", I mean "Wow!" I don’t believe in much, but I believe in Nicolas Cage as the consummate entertainer. For decades, he’s rocked intense performances both Award-worthy and atrocious--in films that could often only be described as the latter, had he not been in them.

That’s definitely the case with the newest adaptation of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkin’s faith-based apocalypse novel. To be clear, there’s nothing inherently un-cinematic in a modern-day telling of the Biblical Rapture story. But because this film (and the 2000 direct-to-video version starring Kirk Cameron in the Cage role) is targeted at a demographic who (mostly) likes their art squeaky-clean, Left Behind suffers from a Hallmark Channel harmlessness that in no way resembles a world in which millions of people might actually vanish into thin air.

Vic Armstrong’s film is achingly earnest, complete with an intrusive, syrupy score; flat, Hot Pockets-commercial lighting; and the kind of literal and visual speechifying that will make casual moviegoers’ eyes roll back in their heads as if moved by the Spirit.

That’s where Cage comes in. He plays atheist airline captain Rayford Steele with legit gravity, as compared to the CW smoldering of co-star Chad Michael Murray or Cassie Thomson’s misplaced “big break” enthusiasm. Cage’s experience and professionalism underscore the amateur-hour cheesiness of everything else on screen. From the lascivious framing of a promiscuous flight attendant, to the wobbly green-screen compositing on Cage’s face throughout the cockpit scenes, and a climax so ridiculous that I can imagine it only working on paper manufactured by Charmin, the bad material is conspicuous and uproarious.

To be clear: I’m not picking on this movie because it’s a religious film. I’m a huge fan of Stephen King’s The Stand, which, though not explicitly so, is a tremendously soulful examination of the End Times. More importantly, it has a villain. I understand that Left Behind is the first in a series of stories, and that the Anti-Christ is scheduled to pop up down the line, but we already have a ninety minute comedy about a troubled pilot trying to land an airplane—it’s called Airplane!.

The lack of a rival leads to a lack of dramatic tension. We know everyone will be okay (this is franchise territory, after all). And because this is a PG picture, we also know there won’t be any blood-curdling peril or even wondrous disaster images to ogle.

Which leads us back to Nicolas Cage. His performance is restrained, which, compared to the landscape, makes it insane. That insanity saves the movie and, in turn, the audience.

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