In a season when we seem to be getting more than the usual number of faith-based films being released — including “Miracles From Heaven,” “Risen” and “The Young Messiah” — we now have the sequel to 2014’s enormously successful “God’s Not Dead.”
To be fair, “sequel” is something of a misnomer here. While there are a number of recurring characters from the original movie, the emphasis here now skews younger — moving the action from the college campus to a high school setting, and making our protagonist a deeply Christian teacher, as opposed to an equally devout male student.
The teacher in “God’s Not Dead 2” is Grace Wesley, played quite competently by Melissa Joan Hart. She runs into trouble with her Arkansas school’s administration after one of Wesley’s history students asks her to discuss Jesus Christ in a historical context alongside the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. While commenting on Christ in her classroom, Wesley makes her Christian faith is readily evident to all present. In short order, that comes to the attention of the school’s superintendent, played by Robin Givens, who orders Wesley to apologize for crossing the line between church and state in her classroom.
She refuses, prompting firebrand civil rights advocates — portrayed here as wild-eyed zealots (especially in Ray Wise’s over-the-top performance as the civil rights attorney) — to convince the inquiring student’s parents to file a lawsuit. The idea is to make it a class-action case that the petitioners hope will lead to a court decision denying the historical proof of Christ’s existence.
Without question, the underlying issues presented in this film are relevant in today’s world, as the rights of Christians to freely express their religious convictions in a public forum or institution are often challenged.
However, I only wish there had been more subtlety in the way the “God’s Not Dead 2” filmmakers had attempted to make their case. The agenda here is front and center from start to finish, and while the actors do a yeoman’s job in presenting their characters with aplomb (especially Jesse Metcalfe, as Wesley’s lawyer), the entire film simply comes off as a two-hour, jazzed-up movie version of a sermon.
PureFlix presents a film directed by Harold Cronk and written by Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon. Running time: 121 minutes. Rated PG (for for some thematic elements). Opens Friday at local theaters.