Something about the mere trailers to the new faith-based drama “90 Minutes in Heaven” just reeks of cynicism.
Hayden “Anakin Skywalker” Christensen as a Texas preacher pronounced dead after a car accident who claims he went to heaven? For a bit?
Mr. Christensen is not a convincing Texan, a less convincing preacher and is barely convincing as an actor, not an animated facsimile, most days. He’s dreadful, and you should be able to tell that just from the trailer.
Michael Polish wrote and directed it? He’s half of the indie cinema “Polish Brothers” who gave us “North Fork.” Never a hint of Christian filmmaker in his bonafides. He’s married to once-rising-starlet Kate Bosworth (“The Rules of Attraction,” “Blue Crush,””Superman Returns”). Their last collaboration came out in August. “Amnesiac” is a straight-up exploitation thriller, a “Misery” clone.
And Polish, a sometime actor, plays a cultish youth counselor in the horror/spatter thriller “Some Kind of Hate” opening in limited release this very weekend.
So savvy filmgoers can be forgiven for smelling a rat, or at least a cynical attempt by a few Hollyw00d-polished slickers to cash in on an audience that supposedly can be lured to any film with faith in it.
And millions of faith-based filmgoers — not many millions, but a few — were pre-sold on this “Heaven is for Real” cash-in.
But Polish and Christensen and company whipped up an utterly heartless, deathly dull film about an embittered accident victim whose excuse — to himself, not uttered to anyone else — for giving up on recovery was that Heaven, which he visited, was so alluring that he doesn’t need to figure out “Why God brought me back.”
The only drama in the film is in the accident itself, and the startling discovery that this fellow that the best Texas law enforcement and paramedics decided had “no pulse,” was still alive. A passersby stopped and prayed and sang a hymn, and Pastor Don Piper mumbled along, giving up the ghost.
The excruciating recovery — painful months in the hospital, mending shattered bones — tests his marriage (Bosworth). He has three kids, but didn’t want to recover on their part? His tweenage daughter questions her faith, too.
“All I do is press my palms together,” she complains about the “Power of Prayer.” “It doesn’t do anybody any good.”
Especially Don, who has whole congregations praying for him. Polish made a fatal mistake, dragging his movie out with some 90 minutes devoted to this part of the story. “90 Minutes” isn’t about Don sharing his experience and giving hope to doubters and believers alike. It’s about him lying in bed, feeling sorry for himself.
Part of that must be due to the casting. Many an actor has failed to generate charisma and conviction when charged with taking to the pulpit. Christensen wouldn’t last a month in a Baptist church, much less one in Texas.
The tedium makes us forget the cynicism — how the whole enterprise seems like “small business,” with Don’s dream of starting his own church. Then former Senator Fred Dalton Thompson takes a break from hustling reverse mortgages to gullible senior citizens to play a mentor to Don.
Dwight Yoakam shows up as a lawyer who smells cash in this accident and briefly brings the picture to life. But whatever happened to Don Piper on Jan. 18, 1989, this movie dies pretty much the moment those words spill out of Christensen’s faux-drawled narration.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for intense accident and injury images
Cast: Hayden Christensen, Kate Bosworth, Fred Dalton Thompson
Credits: Written and directed by Michael Polish, based on the Don Piper book. A Samuel L. Goldwyn release.
Running time: 2:01