I’m “biast” (con): I most certainly do not believe
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Think Crash, but Jesus-y. (Oh dear, I mean the Oscar Best Picture Crash, not the people-who-get-turned-on-by-automobile-accidents one. A Jesus-y version of that would be quite disturbing.) The crisscrossing interactions of a whole bunch of different people are meant to inspire us, apparently, to accept the power of God to arrange outrageous coincidences so that they can all do good deeds for one another and, much more importantly, so that their good deeds pay off for them in a positive way. Whether you are so inspired is directly correlated to how much of a believer you already are, though even they should be skeptical at how this all plays out. Are you a scoffer? A doubter? An atheist? Oh, you will get your smackdown.
It all kicks off when a minister (Ted McGinley: Pearl Harbor) is so moved by the faith of a street preacher (Delroy Lindo: Up, This Christmas) — who is clearly mentally ill and probably a danger to himself, though the movie doesn’t seem to realize that — that he then tells his own congregation that they have to, you know, do stuff in God’s name, not just pay lip service to him. This is a very nice idea that more people who call themselves Christian could take to heart, but the way it plays out here is absurdly contrived to the point, in some cases, of cruelty, inevitably prompting the thinking viewer to wonder, “Well, if God could arrange this as a fix for that bad thing that happens, why couldn’t he just arrange for the bad thing not to happen in the first place?” (Later, God does fix a bad thing, and it’s completely risible. The nonbeliever cannot win with this movie.)
The mysterious ways in which God moves here includes connecting a couple (Cybill Shepherd [The Muse, Moonlighting] and Lee Majors [Big Fat Liar]) who’ve lost their daughter with a homeless woman (Mira Sorvino: Reservation Road, Gods and Generals) and her small child (Makenzie Moss: Steve Jobs)… the mysteriousness being, How did these people end up in a sermon passing for a film? There’s also a cynical doctor (Sean Astin: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, Bigger Than the Sky) and his nasty lawyer wife (Andrea Logan White), an obnoxious money-grubber who acts in ways that are downright unethical; as we know, atheists are never good people. Meanwhile, a paramedic (Liam Matthews) who puts the fear of a hellfire afterlife in an injured man he should be treating is depicted as a paragon of faith and morality. (Atheists always see the error of their ways the moment someone shouts “Jesus!” at them, too, because no atheist ever has a considered, thoughtful foundation for their lack of belief; it’s simply that, somehow, in a culture as soaked in religion as America’s is, they’ve never encountered the notion of a deity before.)
There are people here with real problems and genuine troubles, but as ever when God comes into it in preaching-to-the-choir movies like this one, the solutions are preposterous, the worst sort of fairy tales. This is a worry when movies like this are not intended as mere entertainments but as instructional and inspirational. No one really believes that, say, James Bond or Indiana Jones, or even the central characters in any cosy down-to-earth drama, should be held up as actual role models for living one’s life. But the characters here, fictional though they may be, are meant to encourage the viewer to emulate them. But no one is going to get the ridiculously pat happy endings these people get.