God's Not Dead 2


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

God's Not Dead 2
"Though it does distinctly better than most work in the genre, the film still has a problem with sensationalism."

Christian film is one of those odd little niches that exists in almost complete separation from the mainstream. There are Christian themes and people in all sorts of films, of course, but this is a species of film that always puts religion centre stage and is designed to reinforce belief and convert unfamiliar viewers, of whom there are proportionally very few. It's notorious for sensationalist stories, bad acting and shoddy production values. God's Not Dead was an attempt to change this, to produce a Christian film capable of standing alongside mainstream fare, and this sequel (with which it shares a handful of minor characters) builds on that ambition.

This time around, the story hinges on Grace (Melissa Joan Hart), a teacher who finds herself in trouble after quoting Biblical scripture in the classroom. From her perspective, she was simply trying to answer a question asked by student Brooke (Hayley Orrantia). From the school board's perspective, she was jeopardising the separation of church and state. Prosecutor Pete Kane (a magnificently hammy Ray Wise) rubs his hands with glee, thinking he has a case which he can use to drive Christianity into obscurity. Meanwhile, Brooke finds herself increasingly drawn to the Church after discovering that her dead brother was secretly Christian, and assorted minor characters discover or reaffirm faith.

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The film is well produced and reasonably well acted. It looks and sounds professional and Harold Cronk's direction is competent, even if it does sometimes verge on TV movie territory when he lingers on sentimental scenes. Unfortunately, though it does distinctly better than most work in the genre, the film still has a problem with sensationalism. Kane is a pantomime villain (Wise at least has the grace to acknowledge this in his performance) and the idea that lawyers have been waiting hungrily for "a case like this" is absurd - it's far too flimsy a situation for anyone to seek to set precedent with it. Grace is sweet, her intentions obviously good, her contentious comments arguably justified by the fact she believes she's reciting history. If there really were lawyers out there determined to destroy Christianity, they could find far, far better targets to aim for.

God's Not Dead 2, like its prequel, features Christian rock band The Newsboys, and like most Christian rock songs it adheres strictly to formula. What's rather enchanting about this is the way it inadvertently satirises Hollywood courtroom dramas through its imitation, every scene being just slightly more unlikely than in similarly dodgy mainstream counterparts. Suffice to say that the writers had some really odd ideas about how the law works, presumably having garnered their knowledge from watching other films. There's no way that a real case which played out like this could fail to be declared a mistrial.

Aside from the clear contempt of court issues, the approach to evidence giving in court is just bizarre. An expert witness brought in by the defence is simply treated as presenting fact; no attempt is made to introduce further experts to offer alternative perspectives. The suggestion that there aren't any because alternative perspectives are not credible is wishful thinking of a type no real lawyer would leave unchallenged. This is an ongoing problem with the narrative, which is full of poor chains or logic and straight out elision of difficult facts. There's an evident belief here that non-theists will easily come to share this brand of Christianity if only they read the Bible (notwithstanding the fact that most people today have read at least some of it already), and a similar delusional faith saturates the film - if only people watch, they will believe.

Who is all this likely to serve? It is, almost literally, preaching to the converted, but evangelical Christians are not incapable of reason and many will find it difficult to suspend disbelief to the degree required here. Many other Christians are likely to be embarrassed by it. Unbelievers probably won't go to see it in the first place. It's not going to be the breakthrough that Cronk and his crew hoped for, and they will need to look at it critically if they're going to do better next time.

Reviewed on: 22 Apr 2016
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God's Not Dead 2 packshot
A US teacher finds herself on trial after talking about Jesus in the classroom.
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Director: Harold Cronk

Writer: Chuck Konzelman, Cary Solomon

Starring: Melissa Joan Hart, Jesse Metcalfe, David AR White, Ray Wise, Paul Kwo, Pat Boone, Robin Givens

Year: 2016

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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