You know a movie’s in trouble when the extras are incompetent.
In the faith-based apocalyptic disaster film that is “Left Behind,” we get a lot of scenes of mass panic. People running amok in the streets, looting, arson, cats and dogs living together — that sort of thing.
Usually the madness is happening in the background while a main character is on the phone or trying to make some sense of it all. The extras zig this way and zag that way, waving their arms about and generally behaving as if they’re running an obstacle course on a reality competition show. They are distractingly bad.
As is just about everything else about this film, from the directing to the not-so-special effects to the editing to the acting to the craft services. (Apologies for the gratuitous shot at the craft services. For all I know they were first-rate.)
“Left Behind” stars Nicolas Cage in a remake of a 2000 film starring Kirk Cameron, and let’s all take a moment to let that sink in. Based on the first of 16 books in the series of best-selling novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, it is a well-intentioned but comically inept film painted in the broadest of strokes, hammering home every message with enough force to give us a headache. Time and again, moments designed to move us succeed only in provoking laughter.
Here’s a spoiler-laden case in point. Deep into the story, Cage’s Rayford Steele is at the controls of a commercial airliner on fumes as it bears down on New York City. Runways aren’t an option, so Cage’s daughter Chloe is trying to clear space on a stretch of expressway that has been closed for construction as she keeps in contact with Dad via cellphone. Chloe flashes her brights and says to Dad, “I’m flashing the brights, can you see me?”
In addition to the fantastically named Rayford Steele, “Left Behind” also features a globetrotting reporter named Buck Williams and a football star’s wife named Shasta Carvell. Rayford Steele, Buck Williams and Shasta Carvell! That’s fantastic.
Lea Thompson is Rayford’s wife, Irene, who is constantly quoting the Bible and trying to get Rayford, daughter Chloe (Cassi Thomson) and young son Raymie (Major Dodson) to see the light before it’s too late. Chloe comes home from college for her birthday, bearing a gift for Raymie. (She hands him a baseball glove, which we can clearly see is a baseball glove, and he says, “Mom! It’s a baseball glove, just like I’ve been asking for!” Thanks for clearing that up kid.)
Rayford gets a last-minute call to pilot a flight from New York to London — but Chloe doesn’t buy the story. She zips over to the airport, spots her dad getting cozy with a flight attendant and confronts him. That’s kind of a bummer, but on the upside, Chloe spends some quality time with the dreamy Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murray), a famous correspondent for a cable news network. And then Olympian Lolo Jones shows up as Lori, an airline employee who keeps telling Buck Williams he’ll be late for his flight if he doesn’t board right now. OK.
After we met a stock collection of passengers in scenes right out of an “Airplane!” movie, the Rapture strikes the world. Millions of people vanish in the blink of an eye, leaving behind their clothing and possessions. Mass panic ensues, with power outages, gridlock, rioting and general madness.
“Left Behind” follows the stories of Rayford aboard a plane that suddenly has fewer passengers (his co-pilot and a flight attendant also disappear), and Chloe back at home, where Mom and little Raymie are among those who have vanished. It takes a long time — a long time — for folks to figure out all the children and the adults who believed in God’s word are the ones who have disappeared.
Whether Rayford is trying to calm the passengers (nobody says “SIT DOWN” like Nicolas Cage), explaining to the sexy flight attendant now is not the time to explore their passion or bonding with international correspondent Buck Williams, Cage looks like he’d rather be somewhere else — perhaps cashing the check from this film.
Jordin Sparks is saddled with playing that football wife, Shasta Carvell, a character who is borderline insane. When her daughter is among those who disappear, Shasta is convinced everyone on board is in cahoots with her estranged husband in an elaborate plot to separate her from her child. Right.
“Left Behind” isn’t a terrible movie because of the premise. (The inconsistent but occasionally brilliant HBO series “The Leftovers” explores a Rapture of sorts from a very different angle.) The problem is in the execution. Everything about this film feels forced, clunky and overwrought.
Stoney Lake Entertainment and Freestyle present a film directed by Vic Armstrong and written by Paul Lalonde and John Patus, based on the book series by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye. Running time: 105 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for some thematic elements, violence/peril and brief drug content). Opens Friday at local theaters.