Spoiler alert — God’s still not dead in “God’s Not Dead 2.” Actually, that’s a better title, but let’s not quibble or chase camels through the eye of a needle.
The faithful are taken to court for this sequel to the angriest “faith-based” hit ever. A high school teacher answers a student’s question about Jesus and Mahatma Gandhi at Martin Luther King Jr. High, and the ACLU hits the fan.
Every name in that sentence has been known to irk conservative Christians, at one point or another.
Christian teacher Grace (Awww), played by former “Teenage Witch” Melissa Joan Hart, refuses to apologize when the administration (Robin Givens) and school board in this corner of Arkansas flip out when word of this “Jesus” discussion gets out.
“I would rather stand with God and be judged by the world than stand with the world and be judged by God,” she declares. Grandpa (Pat Boone) is down with that.
And considering the alleged transgression at issue here, so are we. It’s history class, and Gandhi and MLK both looked to The Bible and Jesus as inspiration. What’s the problem?
“Jesus may or may not exist,” is the straw-man argument presented here. That’s all this movie sets out to do, make that case, one that most historians agree on. Yes, there was a historic Jesus. But the film, as it puts one self-serving author proclaiming “proof” after another on the stand, swings and misses. Their evidence? Circular “logic” about “eye-witness testimony in the Gospels” and “Our calendar, A.D., B.C. There musta been a real Jesus, AmIright?”
Balderdash. There’s evidence out there, but these movies aren’t about science or research outside the “Make Money Selling Books to Believers” crowd. One easy, slam-dunk argument to make, conceded even by those who profess no ties to Christianity, and Team “God’s Not Dead” blows it.
The “God’s Not Dead” movies are about projection. It’s “the progressives” and “humanists” and ” liberal media” and everybody else that is angry, that won’t listen to reason, that seems to accept “no amount of evidence” in making their case. Actually, it’s the would-be martyrs making these mediocre movies who fit that description. To a T.
Ray Wise is the lip-smacking ACLU lawyer representing “the viciousness of the opposition.” His team has a seriously effeminate legal eagle among its members. Got to get the gays in there.
Jesse Metcalfe of TV’s “Dallas” is the hunky, never-shaves non-believer who sticks up for Grace in court. Ernie Hudson is the blustering judge who lets opposing counsels sermonize in the courtroom. Fred Dalton Thompson is the clergyman inveighing against a government demanding copies of every preacher’s sermons — “They tried that in Houston.” That was about preachers politicking their congregations to prevent an anti-gay discrimination ordinance, by the way. And that legal overreach died a quick death.
Not that you’d have to explain the reference to this film’s audience. And let’s skip the “politically correct” euphemisms here, in deference to that audience. “Faith-based” means “Christian Based.” Just so we’re clear.
Jerry Falwell’s not dead, either. That self-regarding, self-righteous smirk just moved to Christian conservative TV talker Mike Huckabee, who makes a blustery cameo.
Characters — the young Chinese man finding Christianity and shunned by his family over it, the curly-mopped Pastor Dave and the lady whose cancer turned her away from the Godless academic played by Kevin Sorbo and into the bosom of the Lord — return from the first “God’s Not Dead” film. They’re shoehorned in, because none of them are angry enough to carry the picture. No actor in the movie makes much of an impression on camera, save for Wise.
In a righteous world, the better-acted, upbeat and faith-affirming “Miracles from Heaven” would eat this angry tirade for lunch. But Christians love the fact that they once were fed to the lions, and in America at least, wear that mantle of victimhood and persecution as an ongoing political badge of honor.
But one thing you can say about this genre is that in the time that has passed since “God’s Not Dead” blew up the box office, Hollywood has gotten the message that “Jesus sells” and has served up a couple of pretty good mainstream movies (“Risen” and “Miracles from Heaven”), along with several bad ones (“The Young Messiah,” “Heaven is for Real”).
Either way, for a culture “under siege” in its own fevered imagination, Christian America is certainly making a mark at the box office. So much for persecution and forced “silence.”
In all fairness, the way Christianity is discussed in the media is nothing that the media would stand for if the slurs were aimed at Buddhists, Muslims or Jews. But that’s what happens when you’re a Faith-on-the-Currency (talk about “In Your Face”),majority, with whole TV networks devoted to your prophets, profiteers and politicians.
The lions in the arena are long gone. Why invent offenses and split hairs to find new things to be angry about?
MPAA Rating: PG for some thematic elements
Cast: Melissa Joan Hart, Jesse Metcalfe, Robin Givens, Ray Wise, Ernie Hudson, Pat Boone, Fred Dalton Thompson
Credits: Directed by Harold Cronk, script by Chuck Konzelman, Cary Solomon. A Pure Flix release.
Running time: 2:00