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Left Behind II: Tribulation Force
Reviewed by Jason Myers, © 2002

Format: Movie
By:   Bill Corcoran (director)
Genre:   Religious Sci-Fi Thriller
Released:   October 29, 2002
Review Date:   October 24, 2002
Audience Rating:   Unknown
RevSF Rating:   5/10 (What Is This?)
You might be asking, why review a very niche-market movie made for the Sunday-school crowd? (Has the term Christ-sploitation been coined yet? If not, I'd like to coin it, while fully admitting that use of the term is offensive, blanketly dismissive, and narrow-minded.)

The long answer is at the beginning of my review of Left Behind. The short answer is that Left Behind II: Tribulation Force is speculative fiction, and here at RevolutionSF, we embrace all speculative fiction, regardless of race, gender, or religious background. If a Buddhist made a sci-fi movie, we'd watch it. If a Hindu made a sci-fi movie, we'd watch it. If a Mormon made a sci-fi movie, we'd watch it. If the Amish made a sci-fi movie, we'd watch it (in fact, if someone released an Amish sci-fi movie, I would be the first in line to buy tickets. Admit it, you would too). If a Scientologist made a sci-fi movie . . . uh, moving swiftly on . . . .

First things first: the title. Ack! I can't even read the words Left Behind: Tribulation Force without imagining it being cheesily enunciated by some rusty-throated voice-over guy in an intonation like this: Alpha Male Action Movies present: Steven Seagal . . . Jean-Claude Van Damme . . . Michael Dudikoff . . . and . . . Chuck Norris . . . in . . . American Operation Delta Ninja Force . . . Part III . . . The Revenge. This time, it's personal!. And while we're on the subject of poorly chosen names, how about the main character: Buck Williams. Come on. What kind of name is Buck? Show me anyone born after 1956 with the name Buck, and I'll guarantee that person has spent at least some time working in the adult film industry.

Three paragraphs into a review of a religious movie, and I'm already making Seinfeld-based porn jokes. I'm goin' to Hell.

So, when we last left our heroes, God had pulled a David Copperfield, making all the "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know" people disappear faster than the Statue of Liberty, and leaving all the "No Jesus for Me, Thank You Very Much" people to try to figure out what in the holy hooha was going on. And the Anti-Christ had taken over the U.N., which is, I'm sure, not what Roosevelt and Churchill had in mind at all.

The four main characters, formally of the "Church is Silly" crowd, are now hymn-singin', Bible-carrying members of the Jesus Fan Club. And so, to fight the Anti-Christ, they form the (everyone make ready their best deep-voiced movie announcer impersonation) Tribulation Force. Unfortunately for us fans of V, the next step doesn't involve arming themselves to the teeth and conducting guerilla-style raids against the minions of darkness.

But I guess I have to give the Left Behind movies credit for accurately portraying its characters as normal people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. There are no fist fights or kung fu grips. And, appropriately, the most manly things Kirk Cameron . . . er, Buck Williams does is ride a motorcycle and duck for cover if bullets start flying. Within that framework, we do get some scenes that show the sense of dread that comes from brushing up against a vastly superior power (such as the rooftop scene where Buck shakes hands with the Anti-Christ). But Tribulation Force was only rarely able to sustain any suspense.

And maybe I'm looking for more suspense than the movie's looking to give. 1) The main thrust of Tribulation Force revolves around a Rabbi's announcement about his scholarly research into something like "The 110 criteria for the Messiah". For all I know, this Messiah checklist could be based on religious texts, but it seems pretty esoteric and arcane to me, and, in any case, it's cinematically a lot less interesting than the sudden disappearance of millions of people. 2) The movie is also a partially a love story between Buck Williams and Chloe Steele. 3) There's a lot more preachin' and prayin' in this movie, which could be good or bad, depending on your perspective. From my perspective, more preachin' and prayin' means less time for supernatural happenings and scenery-chewing by the Anti-Christ.

On top of that, Tribulation Force has the same problem its predecessor did. In narrative pacing and production value, it feels more like an episode of a TV show than a movie. The actors seem more comfortable in their roles, and the music is better, but the movie is still uneven, as at the climax, when a series of inexpensive but well-done supernatural special effects (a unique time-stop sequence, a speaking-in-tongues audio effect, and a neat flame visual) are followed up by a very poorly filmed stunt shot of two soldiers on fire.

Those looking for a film with a strong Christian viewpoint may rate Tribulation Force higher (Obligatory Disclaimer: Not all Christians have the same view of the Book of Revelations). Those who'd rather watch a double feature of Pokemon 4-Ever and Home Alone 3 than sit through a film with a strong Christian viewpoint will doubtless rate it lower. But if you're like me, a sci-fi fan just looking for a new and interesting take on the end-of-the-world movie, you'll get about half of what you're looking for. Left Behind is no The Stand. Still, I'll probably check out Left Behind 3 when it comes out, but only if Kirk Cameron is in it. Because a Left Behind movie without Kirk would be just plain wrong.

Left Behind: DVD Force

This DVD, like the last one, is in full-screen format. Did they film the movies on digital video?

Start with a smattering of the usual: web links, cast and crew biographies, movie trailers, a passable "making of" feature, and music videos that this time around are actually music videos rather than just movie clips set to music (one of two videos is pretty cool). But wait, there's more. There's a commentary track, with the producer and the production supervisor (where's the director?). The track is average. If you don't find the info on background sound effects looping interesting (I did), you can always snicker like an ethnocentric American at the way the Canadian filmmakers say words like "out" and "about" (I did). Also, a tour of one of the sets, some test CGI footage, deleted and extended scenes (with commentary), and some mildly amusing bloopers and outtakes that are enhanced by well-chosen background music.

The most notable DVD feature here is the "What the actors really think of each other" feature, which is funny, and not just for the saucy jazz music that puts a weird sexual spin on the montages of the characters hugging each other. Kirk Cameron says that he always could count on square-jawed co-star Brad Johnson to coach him on giving "studly looks", and then Johnson notes that he always used Kirk as a model when he had to act "nerdy" or "milquetoasty." The icing on the cake is an interlude of Kirk on his motorcycle, set to some music that has a slight ring of Top Gun to it.

DVD Rating: 6 out of 10

RevSF Film/DVD Editor Jason Myers likes his milquetoast with peanut butter and honey.

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