‘God’s Not Dead 2’
Director: Harold Cronk
Stars: Melissa Joan Hart, Jesse Metcalfe
1 Globe (out of 5)
Just because “God’s Not Dead 2” isn’t as lip-smackingly insane as “God’s Not Dead 1” doesn’t mean you should let down your guard. The first, a shock hit in 2014, featured nice evangelicals berated by mean secularists, but if anything it was even more cruel to its made-up villains than vice versa. It killed off a psycho atheist professor (Kevin Sorbo!), demonized Muslims and rewarded a lippy feminist with cancer. No one dies this round, and there are even a couple overtures to non-believers, though only so they can provide the film’s timid but fierce heroes with ammo against them. “Duck Dynasty”’s Willie Robertson doesn’t return, but his show still gets a gratuitous plug, and the characters really, really want you to buy a Prius.
Otherwise it’s business as usual, from the leftfield appearances of Christian rock arena act the Newsboys — do they only play this one small, idyllic but always besieged Arkansas town? — to the paranoid fantasy that drives the series: that religion (well, just Christianity) is under attack by elitist jerks. Once again heretical forces are marshaling to destroy a pleasant churchgoer: one Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart, atoning for all those years playing a demonic teenage witch), who teaches at, ahem, Martin Luther King Jr. High. It’s telling of the screenwriters’ slimy goals that her crime is anodyne: She merely mentioned Jesus in a history class, stopping short of proselytization. Still, the cowardly school board — including, nudge nudge, an evil teachers’ union representative — go in guns blazing, summoning the ACLU to not only get her fired but use her as their opening assault on God.
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That the ACLU goon is played by Ray Wise — the reliable super-ham, as haywire as he was as a heavy in “RoboCop” — provides both professional polish to a stiff, cheap production and kitschy entertainment to a film that would already be an instant camp classic anyway. There are even more familiar (and affordable) faces this go, all overqualified — even Pat Boone as Grace’s sickly but persnickety grandfather, who rhapsodizes about how atheists have no capacity for hope.