Movie review: 'Not Today'
By Sean O’Connell
Friday, April 12, 2013
Critics could use an eleventh Commandment, a reminder to ease up when we’re assigned well-meaning but dramatically deficient faith-based movies: Thou shalt not reject thy neighbor’s thematically noble yet unsound effort.
Writer-director Jon Van Dyke’s “Not Today” doesn’t qualify as a good movie, but it’s built on an admirable foundation of good intentions. Van Dyke aims for infotainment, loosely constructing a contrived redemption parable around a factual lesson on foreign slavery rings. “Not Today” comes off as a cinematic sermon delivered to those seeking silver-screen salvation. It modestly engages, but basically exists as a public-service announcement for NFS (Not for Sale) and the like-minded organizations that combat slavery rings around the globe.
Our window into this seedy world is Caden (Cody Longo), an arrogant, privileged, American party boy who recently turned his back on Christianity and his Bible-worshipping girlfriend, Audrey (Cassie Scerbo). After throwing a dart at a map to choose their next party destination -- I kid you not -- Caden and his crew head to Hyderabad, India, where they hope to resurrect Sodom-and-Gomorrah-levels of debauchery.
Because India’s so small, though, and Hyderabad appears to be so sparsely populated, Caden keeps crossing paths with struggling father Kiran (Walid Amini) and his homeless daughter, Annika (Persis Karen). In their parallel story, Annika fears abduction in a country where kidnappings run rampant. Her father calms her with the hopeful phrase, “Not today.” Initially, Caden refuses the duo’s desperate inquiries for food or a little money. Wracked with guilt, though, Caden eventually doubles back into town to find Kiran and apologize . . . only to learn that the hungry dad broke down and sold his child into slavery.
Extreme? Yes, but Van Dyke isn’t interested in subtleties as he hammers home his important message about the existence of these diabolical practices. “Not Today” isn’t heavy-handed so much as it’s lock-stepped into one spiritual track and unwilling to veer when given the chance to explore some original territories. Like a faith-driven riff on Liam Neeson’s “Taken,” Van Dyke’s “Not Today” follows Caden and Kiran through the sewers of nearby Mumbai as they fight to retrieve Annika.
Strong financial returns on average dramatic productions like “Fireproof” and “Courageous” suggest that audiences for faith-based dramas like “Not Today” display a tolerance for clunky moviemaking so long as the message arrives loud and clear. Longo’s wooden performance won’t bother them, and they’ll appreciate the fact that every other monologue involves believing in the power of God and opening one’s heart and mind to the healing ways of Christ. The rudimentary production values regularly released me from Van Dyke’s dramatic spell, though it’s possible I’m just not a member of the choir to which he’s chosen to preach.
It’s impossible not to be moved by the last few minutes of “Not Today,” which are heartfelt testimonials from the cast and crew calling for help in the ongoing fight against human trafficking. If “Not Today” makes even the slightest difference for a helpless child caught in this vicious cycle, then it earns the right to play on as many theater screens as possible.
Contains mature thematic material.