I rarely go to the movies but made an exception for God's Not Dead, a film about a college freshman attempting to convince his atheist professor that God exists. Hours after seeing the movie, however, I'm still deciding if I liked it.
You don't have to see God's Not Dead to know film critics panned it. The subject matter, the existence or non-existence of God, is not the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters. God's Not Dead has no R rating, sex, blood or gore, no F-bombs, and no super-hero robots, Hogwarts, or Middle Earth. By Hollywood's standards, then, God's Not Dead falls flat right out of the gate, but the filmwas not produced for fans of special effects, glitz, and glamor. In fact, God's Not Dead unabashedly plays to a very select audience. Call them “Bible thumpers,” “fundamentalists,” or over-the-top theists; the film is super confident in its demographic. And there lies its major flaw.
God's Not Dead is “in your face” Christianity replete with excessive evangelizing and thus somewhat alienating dialogue; the Bible quoting characters are off-putting and unrealistic. Of course, much of Hollywood's productions are unrealistic, but a film with truth as its core impetus requires more thoughtful, less formulaic dialogue. God's Not Dead is rife with stereotypes (the Scrooge-like, rich businessman, the self-absorbed professor, and his naïve, younger wife), some of which are offensive (a Christian convert is slapped and and disowned by her strict Muslim father). The film shines, however, when the main characters, atheist Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) and innocent philosophy student Josh Wheaten (Shane Harper) butt heads in the classroom, each utilizing science to defend their position on the existence of God. Sorbo and Harper rise above the material they are given; Sorbo has a field day portraying the condescending, somewhat villainous professor who asks his students to sign a paper declaring God is dead. Don't ask me how the big-screen powers-that-be have overlooked Sorbo, an actor who can convey depth and emotion without uttering a word. When the focus moves outside the classroom, however, and away from the intellectual exchange between Sorbo and Harper, the film derails. There are too many predictable, unnecessary sub-plots: a liberal blogger who has cancer and finds her peace after a brief (and sappy) encounter with a Christian singing group; the Muslim girl concealing her Christianity; the Asian young man unfamiliar with American culture. And don't ask me why the scene with Duck Dynasty's Willie and Korie Robertson wasn't left on the cutting room floor. It's almost as if the screen writers were hedging their bets, tossing subplots into the mix just in case the apologetics and philosophical debate between the atheist professor and Christian student did not hold the audience's attention. The tactic backfires. What was meant to cohesively illustrate the saving power of Christ seems random and uneven.
As a consumer, did I like God's Not Dead? Not really. Kevin Sorbo's stellar performance saves the film from failure in my view, but it's not enough to raise the product above Hallmark movie status. As a Christian, would I recommend the movie? Yes. While God's Not Dead with its trite dialogue and unbelievable characters will likely not sway atheists, it is to be applauded for wholeheartedly jumping into the cesspool of contemporary film and putting Jesus Christ front and center. Despite cynical critics like myself, God's Not Dead is holding its own at the box office, raking in a total of $22 Million dollars to date, proof positive that God is not dead...just a bit boring.