Directed by: Alex Kendrick (Facing the Giants)
Starring: Kirk Cameron, Erin Bethea, Ken Bevel, Harris Malcom, Phyllis Malcom, Walter Burnett
Is there really any point in reviewing Alex Kendrick’s follow-up to Facing the Giants (2006)? It’s not a film in any real sense of the term, which is to say that it isn’t aimed at moviegoers, those who care about movies. It’s for people interested in religion—specifically, at people who are keen on religion as viewed by Kendrick and the Sherwood Baptist Church. In other words, it’s aimed at the people who liked Facing the Giants and found its moralizing uplifting. Since I am not one of those people, Fireproof isn’t for me.
Co-critic Justin Souther, who watched most of Fireproof with me, pegged it when he remarked, “The problem with movies like this, with people like you and me, is that they drive us further away from accepting Christianity.” That neatly sums up the central drawback. Fireproof isn’t merely preaching to the already converted; it’s helping to further alienate the unconverted and the skeptical. I doubt that was the intention, but it pretty much is the result with films such as these. The simplistic and often self-righteous tone is off-putting.
The tone of this movie is just that much more out of kilter due to the fact that the filmmakers splurged by hiring “name” actor Kirk Cameron for the lead role. Those who subscribe to the former Growing Pains teen heartthrob’s fundamentalist evangelical Christianity will doubtless like him here and respond positively to his presence. If you’re out of that loop, however, you’re more likely to find his smugness and constant smirking anything but sympathetic.
Cameron plays Caleb Holt, a fireman in a crew made up of sitcom-styled goof-offs and one earnest Christian. Caleb’s marriage is in trouble, which isn’t hard to understand since Caleb is pretty much a jerk. But wife Catherine (Erin Bethea, Facing the Giants) isn’t all that much better, though it could be argued that she’s merely responding to his alpha-male loutishness. When it looks like the pair are headed for divorce, Caleb’s father (Harris Malcom) steps in with a handwritten book called The Love Dare. The book outlines a 40-day (get it?) program for restoring marriage—complete with appropriate Bible verses. Grudgingly, Caleb agrees to try this.
The problem is the program doesn’t seem to be working so well. Personally, I think this is because Caleb is such an oafish boor, but the film has it that it’s really all because Caleb isn’t a Christian. (The earnest Christian fireman has a good marriage. So would Caleb, if he, too, were a Christian.) A talk with dad changes all that, and Caleb—somewhat unpersuasively—decides to become a Christian. It’s as simple as that. But he still faces an uphill battle to win Catherine back, especially since a married sneak of a doctor at the hospital where she works is making a play for her. All this is handled with maximum predictability, combined with outbursts of sloppy writing and dialogue that bears only the slightest relation to the way people really talk.
The catch is simply that if you’re predisposed to subscribe to the film’s intentions and messages, chances are you’ll overlook the bad writing, rudimentary filmmaking, awkward performances and lame attempts at comedy. If you’re not so inclined, I can’t imagine any earthly reason to subject yourself to this movie. Personally, I found Spike Lee’s new film, Miracle at St. Anna, much more profoundly and movingly religious than anything on display here. Viewers in search of something spiritual, and not a simple religious tract, would be better advised to try Lee’s more challenging opus. Rated PG for thematic material and some peril.