‘Miracles from Heaven’
Director: Patricia Reggen
Stars: Jennifer Garner, Kylie Rogers
1 Globe (out of 5)
Like a high school freshman’s first bout on the debate team, “Miracles from Heaven” opens with someone reciting a definition from a dictionary. It doesn’t force star Jennifer Garner to actually use the words “according to Webster,” but that’s the only charitable thing to say about a movie that assumes we don’t know what a miracle is. Slipped into multiplexes already clogged with evangelical bait (“Risen,” “The Young Messiah,” soon “God’s Not Dead 2”), “Miracles from Heaven” is a god movie but the kind that boasts studio bucks and actual, real name stars, in this case Jennifer Garner, Queen Latifah and that guy from “The Ring” who was also in “Torque.”
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That doesn’t mean it’s not as crude and aimless as any cut-rate amateur affair starring someone like Dean Cain and the former Kull the Conqueror. The bulk of “Miracles” is a soggy Lifetime movie accidentally projected onto an enormous screen, with uninspired images to match. Garner plays Christy Beam, a nice Texan mom, desperately searching for a cure for her daughter, Anna (Kylie Rogers), who suddenly and inexplicably comes down with a possibly fatal abdominal disease. Doctors are baffled and Christy’s entreaties to the man upstairs himself — while sitting on her front steps, talking to the sky — seem to be ignored.
They won’t be forever, though you have to be patient — which is to say, the miracles, or maybe mere freak occurrences, and their attendant inspirational speeches don’t crop up till the final 20. We may wonder till then why it was made at all, especially since Garner has little to do but blow up on careless doctors and sob in front of helpless receptionists. Being an actual real movie also means it goes relatively easy on the piety, though that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an awful, vindictive worldview. As with most faith-based films, it likes to conjure up invented persecution. Like the mean atheist teacher pettily attacking a religious student in “God’s Not Dead,” the film’s few non-believers are depicted as rude jerks; one is a passive-aggressive cad whom the film punishes by making his cancer-stricken daughter die.
There is one bright spot, and it’s not Latifah as a routine sassy black friend who exists only to selflessly help our white hero (who returns the favor by assuming that, because she drives a beat-up car, she doesn’t even have a license). It’s Eugenio Derbez, the star of the surprise Mexican hit “Instructions Not Included.” He plays the overbooked specialist who tends to Anna, sneaking real warmth and humor (plus an ever-present Elmo tie) into a film that too often feels cynically engineered to patronize a chunk of the populace admittedly under-represented by mainstream cinema. He’s genuinely lovely, whereas the film seems like a mere extension of a book that was clearly ginned-up to help a financially strapped family sneak their thinly inspiring tale into a market that did the same for the folks behind “Heaven is for Real.” Hey, whatever pays the bills.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge