Shortly after the rapture—that time when all the good actors ascended to heaven, leaving only C-level hacks like Kirk Cameron—a group of people, nay, a force of people…nay, let us think of them as a tribulation force, go hog wild on the sin of pride, deciding to take (Preaching break: God is great. He is so great. I cannot tell you just how great God is) on the AnticChrist. Our religious hero-sinners consist of a kid pretending to be a hardboiled journalist, a grumpy pilot, a minister who is incapable of speaking (Preaching Break: Oh Jesus, we give our lives to you, no matter how stupid your plans are, because you’re Jesus) without mentioning God, and a girl who doesn’t do anything because she’s female, and females don’t count. After extended proselytizing, a plot appears out of nowhere. It seems that (Preaching Break: Come to Jesus, or it is no biscuit for you!) the euro-trash Antichrist is going to be declared the messiah by some Jewish guy, and the Tribulation Force needs to stop that, because everyone accepts whatever Jews say…
Based on the childishly simplistic Left Behind novels, Tribulation Force picks up the threads of the first film. Your favorite actors who-can’t-find-real-work are back, playing the parts they didn’t fit before. (That could be an overstatement, but with Kirk “Gosh I’m Cute” Cameron portraying a tough, world-weary reporter, all perspective is out the window.) The story is simple enough, mainly because there isn’t one for the first hour. Instead we get prayer, preaching, and the occasional conversion (Halleluiah brethren!). You will never find a movie with more sermonizing. I’ve gone to church services (yes, I’ve entered a church and neither I nor it burst into flame) that were subtler. If this is your idea of entertainment, go to a revival meeting; you’ll find it more active and believable. Once the plot begins, you’ll be amazed at how slight it is. In the grand scheme of things, a Jewish scholar’s statement on the identity of the messiah is pretty small potatoes. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if our heroes had done something that…mattered? But nope, the only action is this flick is trying to stop a Rabbi from speaking.
OK, so what’s the world of Left Behind 2 like? Well, it’s fundamentalist paranoia in color. The U.N. and world banks are the tools of a foreign Antichrist. Catholics are part of the evil as well, but that’s played down in the film (Left Behind 2: Tribulation Force—The Movie, now with 50% less Catholic-hating than the book). Everyone is either a Christian, atheist, or Jew. Hey, maybe all the Muslims and Buddhists got taken to heaven during the rapture; wouldn’t that be a kick? The Jews tend to sit around in outdoor cafes and dwell on how sorry they are for killing Christ. Naturally, the atheists are either surly, suicidal, or joining up with the Antichrist. Society is in complete collapse. Strangely, everything looks fine except for some car vandalism. All governments have fallen and currencies are valueless. Again, this doesn’t effect people’s everyday lives (wow, anarchy works!), but it does allow the U.N. (because that’s the one organization that would survive!?!) to take over. There are no children (they got raptured), but that no longer bothers anyone except Rayford Steele (yes, that’s the name the writers chose…while sober) and his buddy. Apparently, most mothers weren’t all that attached to their kids.
Now, everyone remember the Book of Revelations? Do you remember how wackos interpret it? If so, you’ll recall that God is letting The Devil (and his kid) take over, because, well, God is a dick. Yes, God just likes to screw with people because he can. Luckily (and this may not be clear in your version of The Bible), the Antichrist is an idiot. He has supernatural powers, plus rules the world, yet he doesn’t bother checking up on the people that are close to him. This nimrod decides he wants Buck to be his personal reporter, but doesn’t have security do a profile. If he had, he might have decided not to hire a guy who goes to public church services where they announce who the Antichrist is and that he must be stopped. First thing the Antichrist needs to do is hire a few ex-FBI agents to do background checks since his pilot also hangs out at the same church services. (Our heroes are so clever they realize they don’t have to hide any of their behaviors the way that normal revolutionaries do).
Back to the wackos. In the 1980s, every evangelical with a TV show shouted with absolute certainty that the end-of-days was upon us, and that The Bible clearly states how the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States would start Armageddon. Jimmy Carter was also in The New Testament, along with multiple political events that are no longer relevant to anything. As the world didn’t end (or did it? No, I guess it didn’t), the whole mapping of Revelations onto the current world comes off as pretty silly to anyone who thinks. But hey, when has thinking and The Bible ever gone together? Tossing aside thought, the filmmakers have a bigger problem: there just isn’t anything all that interesting in the world today to connect up to ancient prophecy. Minor terrorist activity looks pretty feeble next to immanent nuclear annihilation. So, we’re given a really boring vision of the final days. They should have gone with the literal dragon.
It’s not all a loss. This is the only film I know that has fire breathing old dudes. You see, God (remember, the dick), sends two guys out of a Cecil B. DeMille picture to Earth to mumble the truth to the two or three people that can chat to them. God could have just used the radio, TV, or maybe a podcast (Godpod.com? What do you think?), but he finds it funnier to not let people know what’s going on, so he sends these guys with long beards and flame throwers in their tonsils. Does it make sense? Of course not. But damn, it’s cool.
Left Behind 2: Tribulation Force was supposed to get a theatrical release, but didn’t because, well, why would it? It was also promoted as a great tool for converting the heathens (like me). Wow, it astonishes me what thin grasps people have on reality. No one who isn’t already Jamming with Jesus is going to be able to sit through this talentless catechism and come out with a positive view of Christianity.