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'Left Behind': Heaven Help Us

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 2, 2001


    'Left Behind' Kirk Cameron emotes while all hell breaks loose in "Left Behind." (Cloud Ten Pictures)
Immediate disclaimer: This is not to denigrate the religious beliefs that inform "Left Behind," an adaptation of the best-selling Christian thriller of the same name. This is simply to address the hilariously bad manner in which those beliefs are expressed.

Whatever the central message, the movie's still a blundering cringefest, thanks to unintentionally laughable dialogue, hackneyed writing and uninspired direction. The more this movie tries, the worse it gets. Its sincerity ends up becoming a bulging bull's-eye for rotten-tomato throwers. To all those aspiring bad filmmakers out there, doing their darndest to make my 10 worst movies of the year list: Please know there are now only nine spots available.

The movie, directed by Vic Sarin, is about the mysterious, portentous events that occur when, all of a sudden, millions of people suddenly disappear from the Earth.

Rayford Steele (Brad Johnson), an airline pilot, is flying to London when large numbers of his passengers vanish. Also on board is Buck Williams (Kirk Cameron, former teen heartthrob, Mike Seaver on TV's "Growing Pains"), a television journalist for the GNN cable news network, who'll stop at nothing for a good story.

When he learns these disappearances are happening all over the world, Steele turns the plane back. But when he gets home, he learns his wife and small son are among the disappeared. Only his estranged teenage daughter, Chloe (Janaya Stephens), remains. Meanwhile, Buck hires a private pilot to take him to a friend, Dirk Burton (John Langedijk), who seems to have an inkling about what's going on. But Dirk is dead, thanks to a nasty-looking hit man who suggests Sting's psychotic brother.

Little by agonizing little, the big picture becomes clearer. Two shady operatives (Daniel Pilon and Tony De Santis) have assembled a diabolical plan: to take charge of the world's food supply, run nominally by puppet leader and U.N. Ambassador Nicolae Carpathia (Gordon Currie), and (as it saith in the Book of James Bond) rule the world. As Buck discovers – courtesy of a micro-DVD and the Bible – their intention, to rebuild the temple of Solomon in Israel and have Nicolae preside from there, follows an ancient prophecy warning that the Antichrist will rule the Earth.

The movie's relatively modest budget – it reportedly cost $17 million, much of that spent on energetic promotion—shows all too obviously when it's time for the large-scale scenes. A fleet of warplanes streaking across the sky at the beginning of the movie look like what they are: cut-rate, computer-generated effects. And it's obvious that the various scenes of "mass hysteria" rarely involve more than a few dozen hired extras. At one point, when Buck leaves Steele's house to find that private pilot, Chloe offers to join him. "No," says Buck. "I can't let you go outside. It's madness out there."

Uh, no, Buck, just a few extras outside. Really, she'll be fine.

The movie employs an elementary flawed-hero-learns-true-way scenario, in which Steele (formerly estranged from his wife and kids) learns to appreciate his family, dump that flight attendant (Chelsea Noble) and start reading the Old Testament; and Buck slowly peels away his religious cynicism, as world events begin to mirror the biblical prophecy.

Clearly, this movie, produced by an outfit called Cloud Ten Productions, will appeal to the already converted. And they've concluded the movie with an obvious opportunity to make sequels. (It's based on a series of books that has sold more than 8 million copies.) But the filmmakers have a long way to go, when it comes to the fine art of dramaturgy. Most viewers watching this out of sheer curiosity are likely to wish this movie could make like its characters and disappear.

"Left Behind" (PG-13, 95 minutes) – Contains gunshot deaths, scenes of widespread panic and extramarital flirtation.


© Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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