God's Not Dead (2014)

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Directed by Harold Cronk
Written by Konzelman and Cary Soloman

Rated PG

Shane Harper as Josh Wheaton
Kevin Sorbo as Professor Jeffrey Radisson
David A.R. White as Reverend Dave
Trisha LaFache as Amy Ryan
Hadeel Sittu as Ayisha
Marco Khan as Misrad
Cory Oliver as Mina
Dean Cain as Mark

God’s Not Dead is a well-intentioned film that has some nice moments, but it is ultimately too heavy-handed for its own good. It tells the story of a idealistic college freshman named Josh (Shane Harper), who enrolls in a philosophy class that is a requirement for his pre-law program.

The class is taught by Prof. Jeffrey Radisson, an arrogant - and ignorant atheist, who actually demands his students sign off on the declaration “God is dead” in order to succeed in his class. Josh is a Christian, and he cannot bring himself to agree to this ludicrous assignment. Prof. Radisson then challenges Josh to prove to him, and the entire class, that God is, in fact, not dead.

This will be a debate, and the class will decide the winner. Josh has a control-freak girlfriend, who verbally bullies him into almost abandoning his principles. She argues they have a plan, and his likely failure of this class would impede the progress. I guess she doesn’t share his idealistic views.

Perhaps I’m not entirely qualified to review this film. I graduated from a Christian college, so a situation such as this would never have happened. In fact, I was required to sign off on a contract with other ridiculous promises. This was several years ago, and I have no idea if my alma mater still requires this signed contract. However, no one forced me to sign the contract, so in effect I did agree to their terms. I certainly do not believe God is dead, and I suppose that makes me a Christian. I believe Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, and I believe much of the Bible, but not all. The subtitle of the book on which this film is based is Evidence For God in an Age of Uncertainty.

Since I graduated from college, I have gravitated to a more spiritual lifestyle, but I do cherish my faith. The flip side of this film would be if a professor at my alma mater failed a student if they admitted to not believing in God. Unlikely, but I guess it could happen.

Kevin Sorbo plays Prof. Radisson., and his performance is over the top. The character is thinly written, transparent and annoying. Will we discover Prof. Radisson once believed in God, and his academic position and Atheistic convictions was inspired by a life touched by pain and loss? What do you think?

Subplots aplenty: Radisson’s girlfriend Mina (Cory Oliver) is a Christian, who inexplicably tolerates his verbal abuse. Mina’s brother is a mean businessman named Mark (Dean Cain), who dumps his girlfriend Amy (Trisha LaFache), a liberal blogger, when she tells him she has cancer. Really? Mina and Mark’s mother is suffering from dementia, and Mark refuses to see her. Of course he does see her, eventually, and she remembers enough about her faith to point out wise spiritual truths.

Meanwhile, there’s a pretty student named Ayisha (Hadeel Sittu) who secretly believes in God, proclaims herself a Christian, which is against the strict Muslim views of her family. When her father discovers her secret, it’s one of the most honest and effect scenes in a film with very few. There is also another reverend and an African missionary, and their existence in the film is solely for where the plot needs them.

Still, there are positive moments in the film. Josh’s debates in class are concise, thorough, and convincing. His climactic speech is moving, and I liked the question he ultimately poses to the wounded, angry Radisson.

The film’s dramatic denouement (outside of the classroom setting) falls flat, but it was cool to see the Newsboys sing the title tune (a great song). Willie Robertson of the insipid Duck Dynasty has a curious cameo. In light of their recent controversies, his appearance was an uncomfortable distraction. Josh’s argument is researched and not preachy, and he effectively responds to questions of evolution and the like.

Many reviewers will know the P.C. road to take: pan the film, of course. Those reviewers are wrong. I mean, God’s Not Dead does set out to inspire, and it knows it’s core audience. The film is trying to reach people, to make people think and consider their faith and beliefs. If the final outcome isn’t a masterpiece, I certainly can’t fault them for trying. I know there are many people that will this film inspiration, courageous, and affecting - films that inspire such feelings are a rare breed.

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