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'God's Not Dead' review: Messy production nearly muddles film's message

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God's Not Dead

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It is nice to see that movies with Christian themes are starting to make a splash at the box office. “Heaven Is for Real”, which is based on the book by Todd Burpo and stars Greg Kinnear and Thomas Haden Church, took third place this past Easter weekend, and has earned over $50 million in a little over two weeks. The March release “God’s Not Dead” has also had staying power, creeping into the top ten once or twice and grossing $53 million to date. One day, perhaps the quality of these films will equal the quality of major Hollywood blockbusters, or at least a good indie film.

“God’s Not Dead” proves the faith-oriented genre just isn’t there yet. The film’s two biggest names are Kevin Sorbo and Dean Cain, unless you count an appearance by one of the characters from the A&E reality series Duck Dynasty and his wife. Having one of those yokels show up was enough to make this reviewer want to get up and flee the theater.

Before that unpleasantness, it was the ridiculous acting that was causing discomfort. Relationships between the lead characters are introduced only so they can fall apart mere moments later. All of the established believers in the film act normally, while all the supposed ‘villains’ seem to act so far on the other end of the spectrum that they appear crazy. There’s no gray area and no happy medium between the two sides, which doesn’t make for a very realistic setup.

The main storyline involves a philosophy teacher(Sorbo) who seems to be obsessed with the notion that the great philosophers were all atheists(so much for teaching any actual philosophy). He then makes each of his students write the words ‘God is Dead’ on a piece of paper and turn it in signed for a grade. One student(Shane Harper) refuses, and he is tasked with trying to prove that God does indeed exist.

One could merely argue based on semantics. The philosophy teacher opens with the fact that some of the great philosophers(Freud, Nietzsche) were atheists, meaning that they didn’t believe that a God exists. However, the phrase ‘God is Dead’ would have to imply that a God did exist if the God were indeed dead. Instead, the film uses the dynamic to turn the classroom into a sort-of court room, where the rest of the class is the jury to the professor and the student going toe-to-toe. This is an opportunity for Sorbo to utilize his soapbox. He actually does a good job with the role until it digresses into overwrought melodrama in his final scene.

Speaking of melodrama: a blogger’s breakdown/freak-out in the film is stuff of exaggeration legend. It is hard not to burst out laughing during this moment. “God is Dead” has too much story going on and drags on a little too long for being what it is. The production quality has TV movie written all over it. Put this film up next to last year’s “Home Run”, and that film looks like an Oscar-caliber picture. The box office demand for these types of films seems to be arriving slowly but surely. Now is the time for a decent director, a decent script and some much better acting talent, and faith-based films would really take off.

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