In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. That’s the very first line from the most popular book of all time, the Bible, which could be considered the first ever fantasy book, even with its own kind of wizard hero, without glasses. It’s a title that has managed to sell over 5 billion copies, and has been printed in virtually every language, including Braille.
With that kind of success it’s a surprise that there never was a sequel; you could argue that The New Testament was the sequel, as it followed The Old Testament by a fair few hundred years, but these days, they’re kind of treated as one, which is fair enough.
Its success has meant that a number of its leading characters, mainly God and his son Jesus, have continued in popularity to this day, helping to keep Christianity in pole position as the largest religion on the planet.
This film isn’t an origins story, which is a shame, as there hasn’t been one for a while. Instead it focuses on a period in the US, which saw the growth of a youth movement who were keen to become followers of the son of God.
1968, and heading the Cavalry Church of Costa Mesta of Southern California is Pastor Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer). The house of God is going through a bit of a hard time, with numbers dwindling within his aging congregation.
His teenage daughter Janette (Ally Ioannides) tells him he needs to reach out to the youth, but Chuck is reticent as he’s not a fan of the hippie movement.
One day Janette picks up a hitch-hiker, Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie), who just so happens to be a hippie, but one with the word of God in his heart. She decides to take him home with her, and introduce him to her father.
Initially Chuck remained unimpressed, but when he hears Lonnie speak with such passion, he wins him over.
When Chuck gets Lonnie to speak at his church, he immediately sees an upswing in attendance from more youthful members, including Greg (Joel Courtney) and Cathe (Anna Grace Barlow), despite older members of his congregation not digging it.
It doesn’t take Chuck long to recognise that Lonnie isn’t just speaking on behalf of the local youths, but an entire generation.
Although this film is based on the actual movement that swept through the US in the late sixties/early seventies, you wouldn’t really know it.
Directors Jon Erwin (who has a history with ‘spiritual’ films) and Brent McCorkle struggle to focus on material, with a script that’s all over the place. Instead of just concentrating on the rise of the movement itself, they introduce a really wishy washy love story, a threesome if you will, between Greg, Cathe and God. And although they are real characters, the directors don’t really know what to do with them, attempting some kind of rom-com with their relationship, which just doesn’t work.
And then you have the character Lonnie, who despite resembling a Jesus-like figure, actor Roumie playing him seems more intent to channel Owen Wilson instead. Don’t get us wrong, we’d worship Wilson all day long, but having him as a template for the son of God maybe a bit of a stretch.
There was an opportunity to seriously examine this movement, but all the directors have managed to conceive is a two hour propaganda film for Christianity. It is heavy-handedly preachy, making you more likely to reach for a bucket rather than the good book.
There is a story in there, but it would have probably best been served as a documentary, using archive footage from the time, and contributions from those that were there, if they could remember any of it of course, it was the sixties after all.
As nothing more than blatant, bland material for a recruitment drive, we won’t be swayed; instead we’ll continue our devotion to the one Jesus that counts in our lives, he who wears the number 9 shirt for Arsenal. Amen to that.