Why did I watch this? Why IN THE WORLD did I watch this? I am not a religious person in the slightest. In fact, I am an atheist. I don’t believe in a single damn thing; however, even if I was a devout Bible-thumping Christian, I would still be able to tell the difference between good and bad filmmaking. Here is an illustrative example: I love wrestling and I love Saturday Night Live. That doesn’t mean that I think a match involving the Great Khali is amazing nor do I particularly rave about the genius of Charles Rocket or Ann Risley on SNL. I have also seen ‘religious’ movies that I enjoyed like The Prince of Egypt and… OK, admittedly they are few and far between.
What’s the plot of this film? OK, this is the first thing that irritates me. A young teacher (Melissa Joan Hart aka the freakin’ teenage witch!) answers a question in class about Jesus and cites scripture, which puts her in trouble with the school board and forces her to stand trial. She gets a bright young non-believing lawyer (Jesse Metcalfe) to help her contend against the Evil Atheist lawyer (Ray Wise) to defend her FREEDOM OF SPEECH, DAMN IT. OK, first of all: the question/answer that takes place between her and her student would never really get her in trouble in the first place. Secondly, the film villifies anyone who doesn’t believe as someone who “doesn’t have hope,” which is ridiculous. We’re not all horrible heathens with no shred of dignity or motivation. Even in a film like Spotlight (a film which portrays priests who were PEDOPHILES) the villains are not presented as cardboard cut-out evil people. This film is supposed to be based in realism (HA!) so this was a big monkey wrench in the equation. There are side plots too that I will get into later in this review. Also, I love how the Christians pain themselves as villains who are being persecuted by the big, evil Liberals who rule most of the world. Uh-huh. Sure. Whatever you say.
The acting is borderline embarrassing. Melissa Joan Hart just acts sad and makes prune faces at the camera for two hours while the final outburst by Jesse Metcalfe is laughably bad. The rest of the cast ranges from bad to unbearable, especially a young Chinese man wanting to become a pastor. There is a scene in which his atheist father angrily slaps him and denounces him as his son for wanting to follow Jesus. I laughed out loud. These are things that don’t happen. If anything, people that don’t want to believe have a hard time existing in families with extreme religious backgrounds and are often cast aside and/or disowned. The film trying to paint Christians as the victims is so… quaint. Ugh. I was also very upset that Ray Wise and Ernie Hudson were in this claptrap. I loved Ray on Twin Peaks and Ernie was one of the freakin’ Ghostbusters!
Back to the thing about the side plots. There is a cameo appearance by some Christian rock band called the Newsboys (who? exactly!) who exist for no purpose whatsoever. In an early scene, their contribution is literally telling some girl that she doesn’t have cancer anymore because of her prayer and then later performing a concert and voicing their support for Hart’s character. Yay? There is also another side plot involving a pastor forced to perform jury duty in the aforementioned trial while also taking on an apprentice (the aforementioned Chinese man who is quite possibly the WORST ACTOR OF ALL-TIME). Their story is pretty pointless as well and in the post-credits scene (yes, there is a God damn post-credits scene), their story seems to be what will drive the plot of God’s Not Dead 3 (if it doesn’t actually get made, I may become a devout Christian because then I will know that there truly i s a wise, merciful God out there).
Don’t even get me started on the courtroom scenes. I have seen some awful dialogue involving lawyers and judges in films before but this is eons worse than any of that. There are people who suddenly burst in the room at the perfect time and suddenly get called on as witnesses, lawyers who turn on their clients in a “brilliant” plan and a judge who allows and disallows some really conflicting things that make absolutely no sense. I actually watched this film with a law student (shout-out, Jerika!) and I could actually see her dying inside watching all of the horribly inaccurate and ridiculous things.
What else can I say? If you want to be lectured for two hours about God alongside horrible acting, a plot that makes no sense and some truly terrible music than this is the film for you. Me? I’d rather drink ten litres of battery acid.
ZERO (No Stars)
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)