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God's Not Dead

I know I said that I would get to reviews on Divergent (and an editorial on the YA boom); The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Lego Movie, the Robocop remake, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, among other movies I've seen thusfar, and I shall in the coming month.

Tonight, though? I'm angry. Really angry. And yes, it's over a movie I just saw.

I should make this clear, though: I'm agnostic. I don't care much for organized religion because I believe that if you do have faith, there's no need for a middle man. One's relationship with God, or Jesus, or whatever deity you profess to should be between you and him. When I was younger, I mostly saw the negative of what organized religion can do (i.e. the support and defense of an illegal and immoral war in the Middle East; denying gays and lesbians their rights because their sexual orientation is considered an affront to morality and religious teaching; etc) and it painted a negative light on organized religion for me, and it is still a challenge for me at times to realize that not every evangelical Christian is some backwards-thinking moron who hangs onto their outdated beliefs, and that the vast majority of Christians certainly don't subscribe to the Pat Robertson's and the Ken Ham's of the world. This review is me attacking the filmmakers for a truly horrendous job at selling an agenda, and not on the vast majority of people who profess their love for Christ.

To say it bluntly: God's Not Dead joins Movie 43 as one of the worst movies of this decade. Just thinking about everything that transpired in this irredeemable crock of dogshit still has me fuming. Josh Wheaton (Disney Channel alum Shane Harper) is a freshman in college who signs up for an Intro to Philosophy course. He gets paired with Professor Raddison (Kevin Sorbo of TV's Hercules) an atheist teacher who, on the first day of the course, has a class of 80 students sign on a piece of paper that God is dead. Josh refuses, stating that his religious beliefs won't let him, and he is given an ultimatum: either provide the defense of God's existence, or he will fail the course. Let's pause and talk about everything that's wrong with this premise.
First - What credited university in America would allow a professor of Philosophy (or which ever collegiate course for that matter) to make his or her students write a statement that would conflict with that student's religious beliefs in order to get credit for an assignment?! The dean of the university would be under pressure to have him fired by the student body, and the press when a story of this caliber breaks locally, and perhaps nationally!
Second - In the film, there are 80 students in the classroom, and not only did none of them stand up and tell Radisson to bugger off and report him, but apparently, the majority of them, save Wheaton, are either agnostic, atheist, or are of some other religious persuasion. Ridiculous! According to a 2012 report by Pew Research, 73% of Americans identify themselves as Christian, and of that 73 percent, 48 percent say they are Protestant, 22 percent identify as Catholic. The same research organization also reported on the numbers of Christians globally, and the findings were that the number of identified Christians in American were at 246 million. Again: we have a nation of 317 million people, and of that number of people, 246 million of them are self-identified as believers of the Christian faith. In the film, there are 80 students in that Intro to Philosophy course. And the majority of them aren't Christians, except for the main protagonist. Bullshit!
Lastly - The kid's name is Josh Wheaton. Think about that name for a second. Let it seep into your brain. Then recall another man who's name rhymes with the protagonist, who's famous for a short-lived sci-fi TV show, writing several scripts from Speed to Toy Story, and directed the biggest superhero movie ever made, box office wise. Oh, and he's also a self-described atheist as well. Subtle.

Now, a film about the never-ending conversation on faith and skepticism can be an interesting subject to broaden the debate and challenge an audience, but the filmmakers are so busy making straw man arguments from well-known scientific minds and crafting generic one-liners that the debate itself is lessened to the professor making a generic point, and the kid swatting it down with another generic answer of his own. If this centerpiece was about the professor/student verbal exchanges, my opinion would be that it's a earnest film that clumsily trips over its own ambitions of getting a debate going among believers and non-believers for a slant towards the Big Man in the Sky. Sadly, that isn't the case, and it's where the film itself becomes unwatchable. You see, this movie doesn't just try to cater to the base of conservative Christians and go out of their way to reinforce the false notion that Christians are being persecuted for worshiping and practicing their faith in America; the film goes actively out of its way to paint everyone else that isn't a Christian as either a jerk, condescending, combative and morally flawed individuals who just need to accept the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Yes, the Radisson-Wheaton exchange isn't the only thing in God's Not Dead. There are different subplots in the film, but they feel tacked on, as if director Harold Cronk and screenwriter Hunter Dennis had no idea how to extend their simplistic plot and decided to cram in as much filler as possible in order to reach 90 minutes. There is the story of a leftist blogger, Amy (Trisha LaFache), who conducts ambush interviews and insults the people she's interviewing, only to have her world shattered when she learns she has cancer. There is the story of greedy businessman, Mark (Dean Cain), who dumps Amy when he learns of her condition and doesn't even visit her Alzheimer-riddled mother in the nursing home. There is the story of Mina (Cory Oliver) the woman whom Radisson is dating, is sister to Mark and is constantly insulted by him and her boyfriend at almost every turn because of her unwavering faith (you know, just in case you haven't yet caught the agenda message this film is so subtly telling you). There is the story of a Muslim girl, Ayisha (Hadeel Sittu) who secretly listens to Christian pastor Billy Graham on her iPod, which leads her to be thrown out of her home by her overbearing religious Muslim dad, but not before beating her and dragging her out. And there is the story of Pastor Dave (David A.R. White) who tries to go on holiday with his colleague/buddy from Africa, but the car stalls, along with the two rentals that he ordered.

If it sounds like I'm trying to mimic Ricky Jay's narration to the trailer Magnolia, it's because the film is clumsily trying to as well; connecting the main story to the five other subplots thrown in there to highlight each character's struggles with their Christian faith. All it does in reality is to enforce the narrative that upstanding, moral Christians are being savagely persecuted and viciously attacked because of their beliefs by the "others": the atheist professors who force their worldview onto our children and hitch their nose up in the air toward our values and our Bible; and the Muslims other religions that act hostile towards those who have opened their hearts and souls to Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

With it's implausible premise, shocking lapses in logic that would insult most viewers and boor acting from it's leads, God's Not Dead highlights that it wasn't interested in telling a story. Because the script sides heavily on Wheaton's viewpoint and allows no counterpoint to hear from the opposing argument about the non-existence of a supreme being, the filmmakers shows that they weren't interested in a thoughtful debate about its subject. And because of it's shameless stereotyping of liberals, atheists and agnostics, Muslims and anyone else who isn't their definition of a Christian, the film makes no bones about how it isn't intended for those with a differing opinion. Like Last Ounce of Courage before, this was made to enforce their BS narrative that they are under attack from the rest of the world, and that they can, by being steadfast and true to their beliefs, can win over hearts and minds and bring back America for Christ. And if they don't? They're bad people who will receive their just desserts on Judgement Day. Or some rubbish like that. There's eight more months lefts in the calendar year, but I will be surprised if I see a more insulting and infuriating film like God's Not Dead, the clear front-runner for Worst Movie of 2014.

0 stars out of ****


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