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Fireproof

Fireproof Could Have Been Good – Review Part 2

Fireproof... Never leave your partner behind In part one of this review of the movie Fireproof, I gave my overall view that the movie wasn’t as bad as I’d expected, but still squandered the potential it had to be a decent love story. In part two, I’ll focus on some specifics as well as address some of the religious issues of the movie.

Despite the potential for a nice romance movie, there was so much wrong with the entire script (even setting aside the religious aspect) that any chance for a decent level of watchability was destroyed. Irrelevant scenes, undeveloped characters who suddenly seem important, stilted and contrived dialogue, female stereotyping, and a myriad of other problems all effectively screen the underlying story from being the focus.

Much of the acting was bad, but none worse than the young doctor who attempts to woo Catherine, despite her being married. In his case, the bad writing was not the sole cause of his lackluster performance. He came across as decidedly creepy, with pickup lines that deposited a virtual oily slime on the camera. In the end, there’s an implication that he is married as well, so he becomes a double scumbag… but his complete lack of appeal and disturbing stalker-like creepiness were the worst parts.

There were many useless scenes in the movie that added nothing to the story and were simply time-killing distractions. The gag with the hot sauce and the egotistical fireman, Wayne, seemed to have no point. The minor interaction with the one firehouse atheist was pointless. The entire religious “message” seemed secondary. It would have worked if it had been more of a focus (or at least shown to be the reason for the marriage being saved), or had been addressed in a less heavy-handed, clumsy way.

The religious dialogue that was scattered throughout the movie didn’t seem to contribute to the story. The dad, John, made some comments here and there. When Caleb commented on his long drive, he said, “It gave me time to think and pray.” …hopefully not with his eyes closed. Caleb’s “don’t tell me about Jesus” protestations seemed weak. The father’s dialogue was generally badly written and poorly acted, but other than the main conversion scene, didn’t really offer much of a message of Christian goodness.

What about that message? There was really very little, if any, explanation of why Christianity had anything at all to do with the saving of Caleb and Catherine’s marriage. That’s what made the message so weak. All the actions shown from the “love dare” book were secular in nature, except the day where Caleb was supposed to pray for Catherine, which he admitted he didn’t do… which seems to be showing that, even without the religious parts, the marriage was saved. Caleb has his conversion, but it’s ignored for the better part of the second half of the movie, so there was no connection there, either unless the implication is, because he’s accepted Jesus, he’s willing to clean the house, wash the dishes, and buy his wife flowers.

Addressing the religious points from an atheist perspective, I’d have to say there was a lot of silliness.

  • Caleb’s father says, “[Jesus has] become the most significant part of our lives. When I realized who I was and who he was, I realized my need for him. I needed his forgiveness and salvation.” To me, that’s sad. If a dead guy is more significant than your wife and children, not to mention a myriad of other joyous things in life, then your priorities are so far out of whack that a serious reality check is in order. Need his forgiveness? Need his salvation? What?
  • The conversion speech John gives to Caleb is right out of Cameron’s Way of the Master evangelizing program. “God judges by his standards.” … “His standards are so high he considers hatred to be murder and lust to be adultery.” … When Caleb asks about all the good he’s done, his father replies that it doesn’t matter because “You’ve broken his commandments and one day you’ll answer to him for that.” … “Jesus loves you even though you rejected him.” It’s creepy and the message that you can’t know what love is without Jesus is just offensive.
  • When the oncoming train almost hits the lieutenant while he’s helping move a car off the tracks, he sits down and says, “Thank you, God. Thank you, Lord.” I think it would be more appropriate for him to be thanking the other folks who helped get the car off the tracks before the train came by. If God had wanted to help, he could have just stopped the train… or moved the car… or perhaps kept the car accident from happening in the first place. To give thanks to a god who almost kills you is just absurd.
  • When Caleb is rescuing the young girl from the burning house and gets trapped in a room, he says (uncharacteristically, I might add), “God, get us outta here!” He then proceeds to use his axe to hack through the wooden floor and escape safely from under the house. This almost made sense, because, even though he asked God for help, he got out by himself. Quick thinking and taking action saved his life, not a benevolent god. Again, if God had wanted to help, he could have kept the building from catching fire in the first place, or at least gotten the girl to go outside before burning her home to the ground.
  • There was an implication that, unless you give your life to the Lord, it’s all about “my rights and needs.” I don’t think the “Lord” has anything to do with that. Just the opposite, in fact. If someone is “accepting Jesus” because they want eternal salvation or to avoid eternal damnation, that seems pretty self-centered to me.
  • Caleb tells Catherine, “God has given me a love for you that I had never had before.” What he’s telling her is that he can’t possibly love her without divine intervention. That’s insulting on a grand scale.
  • Caleb says, “The love dare changed my life.” and his father responds, “God changed your life. The love dare was just a tool he used.” That’s classic Christian thinking right there. Don’t give credit where the credit is due, but credit God for working in mysterious ways. It’s brilliant because it fits any situation and it’s irrefutable. You can’t prove that God didn’t use the love dare to save your marriage!
  • When Caleb finds out his mother did the love dare on his father (and not the other way around) and now knows that she’s all Jesus’y, he’s sorry for treating her badly and runs to tell her how much he loves her. “Dad, I have treated her so wrong!” Caleb cries. The implication is, of course, that only the godly folks are worthy of good treatment. His mother didn’t change in the past month, but when he suddenly finds out that she’s “all in,” his attitude toward her is completely changed. It’s hypocritical and repugnant.

There are more things like those, of course, but those are some of the highlights. None of those things added anything to the story, but their poor execution just hindered both the Christian message and the quality of the movie. The writer’s attempt to make the connection between Christian beliefs and the success of the marriage failed on a grand scale. However, it did (if you could wade through all the muck) make quite a good connection between kind, secular actions toward your spouse and the success of a marriage. Caleb started doing nice things for Catherine and it made him a better person… and she noticed.

That was the real message.

Fireproof Could Have Been Good – Review Part 1

fireproof02 I finally got around to watching the movie Fireproof, the Christian-themed movie with Kirk Cameron as a fire chief who is having marital problems that get solved by accepting Jesus. I’ll admit I was biased going in, not just because I knew it was a Christian-themed movie, but because I’d heard, from both atheists and Christians, that it was horrible. The most common criticism I’ve heard is that Kirk Cameron is just a terrible actor.

As it turns out, I didn’t dislike it nearly as much as I’d expected, and there were some parts that I actually enjoyed, so it wasn’t a total loss. Yes, Cameron’s acting was bad at times, but not in comparison to some of the other actors’ performances, and there were some funny moments and some touching moments that were handled nicely.

Here’s the quick summary of the plot. Caleb (Kirk Cameron) and his wife Erin (Catherine Holt) are having serious marital problems and a divorce is imminent. Caleb complains about Erin to his father, John (Harris Malcom), who had gone through similar problems that were solved by a 40-day “love dare.” He suggests that Caleb try it. Caleb gives his word to go through the entire 40 days, so his father gives him the “love dare” book which gives a new behavior to do each day… refrain from saying anything negative, do something nice, buy her something nice, etc. Each day builds upon the last. Around day 20, Caleb is ready to give up because it’s not working, but his father visits and inspires a religious conversion. The rest of the days play out with Caleb willingly working the 40-day plan. It ends happily and they renew their wedding vows.

Why does the movie fall short of what it could have been? My opinion is that it had the makings of a good Lifetime Channel type of movie, but fell apart because of the writing, the acting, and the incongruent messages.

The acting was admittedly sub-par, but throughout the movie, it was hard to tell whether it was the fault of the actors or of the writers. Some of the dialogue was painfully stilted and I kept thinking to myself that nobody talks like that. There are some scenes, however, that are perfectly believable… even touching… so I have to think that the actors had some talent, but were handicapped by the poor writing.

There are very few movies that I specifically notice the directing, and when I do, it’s invariably a bad thing. The first The Incredible Hulk (with Eric Bana) is a good example because the comic-book style scenes were jarring (and I disliked them immensely). I noticed the directing in Fireproof, too. At times, it seemed clumsy (“Why are they focusing on that?”) and at times, there were scenes included that added nothing to the movie (the brief interchange with the atheist). It wasn’t consistent throughout the movie, but, like The Incredible Hulk, it was jarring when it happened… and it happened enough to be annoying.

Some scenes, however, were fairly well done. There was a rescue scene where two girls were trapped in a car on a train track and a train was coming. The firemen were trying to move the car off the tracks and all the spectators joined in, getting it moved just in time… so “just in time” that one of the firefighters was close enough to the train to have his fire hat knocked off. That’s close… and the entire scene was both tense and touching. Cameron was believable barking orders and the camera work was well done.

Another rescue scene came later when Caleb was trying to get a little girl out of a burning house and hacked through the wooden floor with an ax, escaping just before the roof collapsed and something exploded. The tension was well handled and it was all believable during Cameron’s scenes. Outside the burning house, the seemingly random, Keystone-Cops-like chaos was another matter, but it wasn’t the focus of the scene, so it wasn’t a big distraction, though I did find myself briefly wondering why they weren’t more effective at helping Caleb.

Other scenes were well-done, too, and weren’t ruined by bad direction, acting, or writing. They were refreshing.

The Christian message seemed muddled and secondary… and somewhat ham-handed. Caleb tells his father, John, that he doesn’t want to hear about Jesus and his father doesn’t push it at first. The 40-day “love dare” book John sends him seems quite secular until we find out there’s a bible verse at the end of each day. However, other than the “Pray for your wife” day (which Caleb admits he skipped), all the actions seemed secular (make dinner, do something nice, say something nice, etc). It was unclear why religion was a necessary part.

Then came the day-20 visit by John where Caleb’s upcoming conversion is overtly set up by his complaining about Erin and angrily asking how he could possibly love someone who rejects him again and again. As he’s talking, his father is slowly walking around a small campsite and ends leaning against a cross. Caleb sees his father standing by the cross, and after his father delivers a bit of poorly written, clumsy dialogue right out of Cameron’s Way of the Master evangelizing program, gets it. He accepts Jesus, admitting that he needs Jesus’ forgiveness and that he will trust Jesus with his life.

After his conversion, Caleb becomes willing and eager to do all the rest of the “love dare” program, regardless of how Erin reacts. I assumed that the implication is that his change of heart came from his acceptance of Jesus. However, aside from a few insignificant scenes where Caleb shares his newly found inspiration, the movie continues with actions that could just as well be secular in nature. It’s almost as if the writers took a good love story and jammed in some Christian evangelizing so it would be a “Christian” movie.

There’s so much more I could say about this movie. There were some really funny parts (when Caleb makes coffee for Erin, the hospital girls, the oh-so-lame flowers) and some parts that were really painful to watch (interactions between Caleb and his father, the goosebump-inducing creepiness of the young doctor, the insulting stereotyping of women), but overall, it seemed like it was a promising, inspirational love story that was irrevocably marred by poor writing and a clumsy insertion of an incongruent Christian message.

But the fire trucks were cool.

(more thoughts on the details in my next post)