What seemed like a normal weekend at home from college turned out to be quite a bit more than Chloe Steele (played by Cassi Thomson) expected. As she arrives home, her father Rayford Steele (Nicolas Cage) is abandoning his own birthday party to pilot a trans-Atlantic flight from New York to London, leaving Chloe with her “wacko” recently-converted-to-Christianity mother Irene (Lea Thompson) and younger brother Raymie (Major Dodson) for the weekend.
Life at the Steele house isn’t perfect. Chloe went to college out-of-town to avoid being preached at by her mother. Rayford – who believes his wife will eventually get over this “Jesus phase” – is increasingly distancing himself from his family through work, all while developing a relationship with flirty flight attendant Hattie Durham (Nicky Whelan) – whom he has not yet alerted to the minor detail that he’s married. Raymie can sense the tension in his family. Irene fervently prays that God would work in her family and bring them to Him.
One whoosh later, and all the Christians and children on earth – including Irene and Raymie – are gone, leaving behind confused, angry and scared people and some very empty clothes.
In New York, Chloe is justifiably freaking out about the slew of disappearances. Meanwhile, somewhere in the middle of nowhere between New York and London, the assortment of passengers of Captain Steele’s flight are also feeling a complimentary in-flight cocktail of emotions about the vanishing of their snoring seatmate or the crying baby in 2B. Joining Captain Steele as the (somewhat) voice of reason among the passengers is investigative journalist and photographer Cameron “Buck” Williams (Chad Michael Murray), who earlier in the film bumps into and befriends Chloe at the airport.
And that’s about where the movie takes a nose dive.
For the first 30 minutes, the film was alright. The characters were slightly flat or caricatured, and the dialogue and conflict wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a Hallmark movie, but at least the film felt like it was building to a satisfying second and third acts.
Instead, the audience watches for the next hour as Captain Steele attempts to safely land his plane back in New York, while outside of the cockpit Hattie and Buck try to keep the rowdy passengers calm and in control. Just like a Leslie Nielsen parody film, Captain Steele’s plane comes complete with an ensemble of quirky passengers. There’s a so-busy-I’ve-neglected-my-family businessman filled with regret, a drug addict who desperately hopes the whole rapture ordeal was just a bad trip, a grouchy little person, and a man convinced the disappearances were caused by government testing of some secret weapon stored in Area 51.
Chloe’s scenes on the street show much more potential, but even these promising moments are also crippled by the film’s wrecking-ball-esque subtlety in storytelling. Two particular scenes are visually and dramatically powerful, but the heavy-handed storytelling and music dull any emotional power the scenes could have had.
As for how it handles the Christian themes from the source material, this reboot of “Left Behind” only nods to the biblical material in the exclusive rapture of Christians (and children) and the display of a Bible verse on the screen before the credits roll.
A movie based on the rapture has some liberty to be campy and a little goofy – it’s a pretty crazy concept to think about, let alone portray in film. Instead, the audience meets stereotypically flat characters in a film that can’t seem to decide if it wants to be a family drama, disaster film, or action blockbuster. In its attempts to take itself too seriously, “Left Behind” becomes impossible for audiences to take seriously at all.
In the end, even hearing Rayford Steele declare, “I’m gonna steal the end times!” would have made the film better.