Directed by: Harold Cronk
Premise: A sequel to the 2014 film. A high school history teacher (Melissa Joan Hart) answers a student’s question about Jesus. This gets her in trouble with school administration and she must go to court to fight for her job and her religious rights.
What Works: Despite the many problems of God’s Not Dead 2, most of the actors acquit themselves. The picture is led by Melissa Joan Hart as a teacher who unwittingly steps onto a cultural third rail and becomes a social pariah. Hart brings a credible middle class weariness to the part that makes the character likable. Also notable is Hayley Orrantia as the student whose question lands the instructor in hot water. Orrantia’s character is a teenager struggling with the big questions about life and she plays the role well.
What Doesn’t: Like its 2014 predecessor, God’s Not Dead 2 is a polemic. It’s a movie with a message and that message is intended for an audience that is primed to receive it. It’s not a movie for non-believers or even those of a vague or nuanced faith; God’s Not Dead 2 is intended to affirm a pre-existing worldview: that religious freedom, and particularly Christianity, is under attack by secular forces. Making a polemical movie isn’t necessarily a bad thing; Inherit the Wind and Network are also polemics but their arguments are presented with style, wit, and intelligence. God’s Not Dead 2 has none of those qualities. The movie is primarily a courtroom drama and right away the premise of this story doesn’t make sense. Why is this taking place in a courtroom? This isn’t a criminal matter. The American Civil Liberties Union are the plaintiffs (on behalf of the school district) but if anyone should be filing a lawsuit it is the history teacher for wrongful termination. From that muddled beginning, God’s Not Dead 2 moves into its argument. The opposition, which are primarily school administrators and big city lawyers, are all characterized as smug anti-theists who want to remove all references to Jesus from the public square. Character assassination is par for the course in a movie like this but the arguments are stupid; the whole prosecution is a straw man argument that even a high school civics student should see through. That is a shame because the premise of God’s Not Dead 2 is actually promising. The conflict of this story is built upon a fundamental misunderstanding of what rights people have and specifically what rights a teacher does or does not have in the classroom. This is a relevant and complex topic but the filmmakers of God’s Not Dead 2 are not interested in nuance. All the Christians are good, everyone else is evil, and there is no equivocation between them. When the defense makes its case, the film really gets confused. This is initially supposed to be a defense of religious freedom but it veers into another realm entirely. Instead of explaining civil liberties, the defense makes a case for the historical existence of Jesus. In this respect, God’s Not Dead 2 reveals its true self. This film isn’t really a piece of drama nor is it even an argument; the movie exists as an infomercial for faith-based products and the story shoehorns in several real-life people to hawk their work even though it is irrelevant to the story. J. Warner Wallace, author of Cold Case Christianity, and Rice Broocks, author of God’s Not Dead and Man, Myth, Messiah, show up in the movie and testify to the historical fact of Jesus’ existence. The music group Newsboys performs their brand of Christian rock in cutaways that have nothing to do with the rest of the story. Aside from its absurd arguments, God’s Not Dead 2 also fails as a piece of cinema. The sound is frequently terrible, the production values are cheap, and the story is padded with all sorts of extraneous storylines that never come to a conclusion.
Bottom Line: God’s Not Dead 2 is a polemic and it’s not a very good one. The filmmakers presume to be interested in religion and civil rights but the movie demonstrates that they understand neither. The picture fails as an argument but also as a piece of cinema.
Episode: #590 (April 10, 2016)