The virtues of “God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness,” are few. So let’s get them out of the way right out of the gate.
It’s replaced the generally hostile, defensive and political tone of the first two films with a veneer of “We have to learn to get along.” It’s still toxic, only less so.
So the parade of straw men this propaganda piece trots out are fewer in number and less testily-defined. No godless academic shrieking for the superstitious to prove their superstition is “the only Truth.” The preacher (David A.R. White) jailed for not surrendering the texts of his sermons (!?) in ARKANSAS (!#?) is at least out of jail in this third film in the series.
And John Corbett’s in it, the “Northern Exposure/Sex and the City/Big Fat Greek Wedding” veteran who makes most everything he turns up in a little more whimsical, a little better.
But here’s a tip. You want to see a pretty good, reasonably apolitical faith-based drama with Corbett in it? Redbox or Netflix “All Saints.” Much better.
Corbett plays the faithless older brother/lawyer who comes down from Chicago to represent his brother in the fight with Hadley College, a state school trying to evict St. James Church, whose presence on campus has been deemed unConstitutional and divisive by the women of the college’s board (among them, a martinet played Tatum O’Neal). The poor college president (Ted McGinley) has his hands tied.
The divisions on campus have consumed coed Keaton (Samantha Boscarino), her beau Adam (Mike C. Manning) and their outspoken pal, Mateo (Schwayze).
The church gets torched, causing even Pastor Dave (White) to lose his temper and question his faith. “Now, it’s just a crime scene.”
And one and all decry the “political agenda” that everybody seems to have…everybody on the “other side,” that is. Funny thing, there are all these talk shows depicted debating this conflict. Hosted by impartial voices like…shrill Fox News Judge Jeanine Pirro.
Corbett gets to make the counter arguments here, a preacher’s kid who gave up God as he got more educated. “The church has outlived its usefulness,” he says. But he sticks up for his brother, even if the preacher is “pretty quick to play the victim card.”
The protests have loaded imagery — Mateo taping a speech with his cell phone, which has an upside down photo negative image of a flag. But one young person sums up the Evangelical movement’s NASCAR (falling attendance, ratings, etc) problem in a flash. “We’ve spent years hearing what the church is AGAINST. What’s it FOR?”
Aside from anybody running for office calling themselves a “social conservative?”
But the logic-resisting pre-law kid who started all this on campus bickering (Shane Harper) is still tugging at Keaton’s soul and counseling everybody to act more like Jesus and get along.
This is far and away the worst of the three faith-based choices viewers have at the movies this Easter. The presence of Corbett only underlines how his charisma lets him act rings around the rest of the cast. Boscarino is sympathetic, nobody else in this blandly reactionary script stands out. Not even McGinley.
Tatum O’Neal should sue the cinematographer.
There’s one laugh in it, Preacher Dave seeking counsel from the African American minister (Gregory Alan Williams) across town, wallowing in his victimhood, telling him “You have no idea” how he’s being persecuted, and getting schooled.
“Brother, who d’you think you’re TALKING to?”
In America, churches that burn are almost always black. Torched by white men. Mass murdering a congregation is most famously a white racist-on-black crime. Religion was politicized by the intolerant far right, and that continues to this day, even as church-going shrinks within the American populace.
And all this “Get along” stuff? It’s what we see in Congress whenever one party has used disrespect, inflammatory lies and Russian money and influence to steal a Supreme Court seat and put a stealing, cheating, lying treasonous whoremonger in the White House.
“Come on, can’t you guys be NICE and not, um, DIVISIVE?”
The one comfort I take from this is that I saw it in the rural South, in a Red State cinema. As an audience of one. Nobody else is buying into this garbage.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements including some violence and suggestive material
Credits: Written and directed by Mason Williams. A Pure Flix release.
Running time: 1:48