If you know me, you know that I love Nicolas Cage movies. The dazzling highs (Raising Arizona will never get its due in the Coen Brothers canon), the fascinating middles (Vampire’s Kiss!) and the blistering lows. And while Cage makes a pretty steady stream of bad movies thanks to a combination of bad money management and a desire to just do whatever, Left Behind (an Amazing Spider-Man-style total reboot of the prior Left Behind trilogy starring Kirk Cameron) is maybe the worst movie he’s ever starred in, and handily the worst wide release movie of 2014. Although Deadshirt strives to
not egregiously shit on everything like Pitchfork consider everything, here are the ways in which Left Behind completely confused or angered me.
To give you an idea of how bad the production values for this movie are, I’ll focus solely on the music. It’s about on par with the soundtrack for Birdemic: Shock and Terror. The expense of hiring Nicolas Cage and licensing the highly lucrative Left Behind book/computer game mega-franchise apparently meant the movie’s music budget consisted of “whatever they could pull off GarageBand without getting sued.” Not only is it bad, it’s distractingly bad: tense scenes of everyday people reacting to the disappearance of loved ones is underscored with the kind of music you heard in the football throwing scenes of The Room.
Most of the first act of Left Behind takes place in an airport. Nicolas Cage plays Rayford Steele, a commercial airline pilot with a failing marriage who is estranged from his daughter Chloe (Cassi Thomson) who decided to surprise him with a visit home on his birthday. Both are struggling with Chloe’s mother/Rayford’s wife Irene (Lea Thompson), whose recent conversion to hardcore Christianity really freaks them out. Rounding out the Steele clan is Raymie Steele (What’s going on with these fucking names???!!), Chloe’s younger brother whose major contributions to the plot are getting excited at a new baseball glove, turning into a pile of clothes, and resembling Deadshirt contributor Joe Stando.
Here’s the thing about Left Behind: None of the movie’s remaining humans are able to figure out that The Rapture has happened until a full hour into the film. Cage searches piles of empty clothes for a clue, any clue, as to the nature of the disappearance of his flight crew, only piecing together the mystery when he discovers a BIBLE PASSAGE NUMBER on the front of his co-pilot’s watch. It’s sort of like how zombie movies exist in a reality with no zombie movies, except here it’s literally one of the two most cited sections of the most famous and widely read book in human history.
Credit where credit’s due, the initial family strife angle Left Behind presents with the Steele family could be pretty interesting, except that Lea Thompson’s character and the younger brother are, spoiler, raptured offscreen fifteen minutes in. This is a movie that pays the money to cast Nicolas Cage in a leading man role but refuses to give him anything to do except stoically calm frantic passengers and gently tell other characters that his wife knew all of this would happen. When Steele Father and Steele Daughter meet, Cage’s reaction to her is about the same as if she was a set PA who’d just given him a really good sandwich. After The Rapture, Chloe Steele spends most of the movie’s second act walking home and passively observing as poorly rendered CGI planes and school buses crash all around her like the love child of Kristin Chenowith and Mr. Magoo.
The movie turns into 12 Angry Men On A Plane about midway through, with a cast of characters that includes a famous football player’s wife (Hey it’s Jordin Sparks) and daughter, a zany alien conspiracy theorist/annoying nerd, a strung out Lady Gaga-type, Token Arabic Man, Ted Turner Businessman, and a Cowardly Degenerate Dwarf. And while most of the movie is them bickering or screaming at piles of clothes that were once young children, none of this goes anywhere! Given that our cast of characters was judged unworthy of the fruits of Heaven due to their sinful life choices, you’d think this would be a great opportunity to come up with nuanced, flawed ensemble characters. Cage’s would-be adulterer doesn’t so much as kiss his on-the-side flight attendant in an effort to keep him sympathetic? Characters are driven out of their minds with fear and anger, but aside from a brief sequence where a character pulls a gun on others/herself, there’s never even the threat of a fight breaking out onboard the airplane. I’d applaud Left Behind‘s sole Muslim character as “progressive” since the movie goes out of its way to present him as an ordinary, normal person, but I’m pretty sure it straight up invented a new offensive stereotype in “denim-wearing little person who hates children and loves gambling.”
Ultimately, Left Behind fails because there’s literally nothing here to grab onto. It’s a biblical action-thriller with all the thrills of a communion wafer. Say what you will about Tyler Perry but, as much as his movies are cynical, borderline offensive trash, the dude knows how to wrap his films’ Good Christian Values in enough sex, violence, and broad comedy to captivate an audience. It’s fitting that Left Behind ends with its three major characters aloofly staring at the burning New York City skyline and dreading what’s coming next; I can’t even imagine another ninety-minute installment of this.
Left Behind is in theaters now, if this review was not enough to dissuade you.