Directed by Alex Kendrick. Starring Kirk Cameron, Erin Bethea, Ken Bevel, Jason McLeod, Stephen Dervan, Eric Young, Harris Malcom, Dwan Williams. (2008, PG, 122 min.)
REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., Oct. 3, 2008
Let’s just come out and admit already that Hollywood is a steaming cesspool of deviance, hedonism, and casual amorality. Every year it pumps our minds full of the most degrading kinds of filth and sinful indulgence – men with guns, men with knives, men with dirty mouths, men with men – and passes it off as entertainment, secure in the knowledge that the lower it stoops, the more money it’ll make. So what a surprise it must have been this past Monday when, all over that godless town, industry insiders opened their trade papers to discover that a low-budget Christian film about the spiritual perils of divorce and the power of prayer, produced by a Baptist church in Georgia, written by two associate pastors, starring a bunch of nonactors (with the exception of former-Tiger Beat-heartthrob-turned-televangelist Cameron), and totally free of sex, violence, or curse words, was the No. 4 movie at the box office. Of course, the time was ripe for such a triumph – it’s been years since Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ proved that the religious dollar is as green as the secular one – but it took Fireproof to prove that you don’t need good acting, good writing, or good directing to make an evangelical movie that catches Tinseltown off guard. In fact, the writing and directing Kendrick brothers, Alex and Stephen (who also made Facing the Giants), have raised blandness and narrative predictability to the level of high art. Their script for Fireproof is almost sublime in its devotion to artless, unambiguous sentimentality and wide-eyed, tear-filled, gauzy, suburban spiritual wonder. Their hero is Caleb Holt (Cameron), a firefighter who has lost the love connection with his wife. As soon as he walks in the door after a long day of pulling children from burning buildings, he and Catherine (Bethea) are at each other’s throats, over his selfishness, over her henpecking, over his apparent fascination with pornography (“apparent” only because the script carefully avoids confronting the topic head-on, choosing instead to use the word “Internet” as a stand-in for all things too-icky-to-mention). When Caleb turns to his family for help, father (Malcom), a newly born-again Christian, convinces son to try the Love Dare, a 40-day experiment in altered behavior designed to retighten the bonds of marriage through selfless devotion, faith in God, washed dishes, and a deep appreciation of Bible quotes that are short enough to fit on a refrigerator magnet. Fireproof, in other words, is American Evangelical Christian storytelling at its finest, storytelling for a world entirely devoid of gray areas or ethical hierarchies, a world where hatred is tantamount to murder and lust is equivalent to adultery and all of the above equal damnable sin: a world free of pesky moral malleability – which makes for fruitful soul-fishing but lousy drama.