The biggest new movie release this week is, of course, a sequel. But it’s not another superhero romp, nor a YA entry, nor even a family film — the genres Hollywood now makes with any regularity. It’s “God’s Not Dead 2,” whose predecessor was a very, very surprise hit two years back. It’s the fourth religious movie of the new year alone and, like many of them, it wasn’t screened for critics. But if it’s anything like “God’s Not Dead 1,” it’s probably terrible and horribly depressing.
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At this point there are more Christian-driven movies than at any other time in history — even more than when Hollywood devoted its biggest budgets to religious epics like “The Robe,” “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben-Hur.” (The latter is getting a blockbuster remake this summer, though the trailer paints it more like a cool, roided-up tale of vengeance and chariot racing than a work of solemn piety.) “The Passion of the Christ,” another shock blockbuster, opened the floodgates for faith-based cinema, both in Hollywood and among tinier, more specific evangelical markets.
Or that was the idea, anyway. Instead, quantity has trumped quality, and not merely because many are amateurish and lumpy, even the ones with name stars and money behind them. They tend to depict faith either blandly or as a paranoid, black-and-white battle between nice believers and mean doubters. These films have fanned the flames of a culture war that has been so greatly exaggerated that, with the rise of Trump, the imagined has finally become real.
The worst offender isn’t, perhaps surprisingly, the Kirk Cameron vehicle “Fireproof,” which raked in some fine cash in 2008 while peddling bad messages about women knowing their place in the household. It’s the original “God’s Not Dead.” In the over-the-top drama, former “Hercules” he-man Kevin Sorbo plays a mean philosophy professor — it’s called typecasting, people — who berates and threatens to destroy the college career of a nice Christian boy (Shane Harper) who refuses to sign a paper on the first day of class saying God does not exist.