Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Not only are Alex and Stephen Kendrick brothers, but they're also the media and teaching pastors at Sherwood Church of Albany in Georgia. The Sherwood Baptist Church congregation has been financing films, such as "Flywheel" (2003) and "Facing the Giants" (2006), and volunteers act in these low-budget productions. "Facing the Giants" dealt with a losing Christian high school football coach under pressure to win games, while "Flywheel" concerned a morally unscrupulous car dealer who swindled his customers, verbally abused his spouse, and neglected his son. In "Fireproof" (* out of ****) the Kendricks tackle the marital woes of twenty-somethings. The metaphor for marriage that the brothers invoke is drilled into every fireman in the Albany, Georgia, Fire Department: 'Never leave your partner behind.' Like all their movies, the Kendrick Brothers want to spread the word of Christ on celluloid to save souls, so prepare yourself for some immaculate Christian propaganda.

Gung-ho workaholic Fire Chief Caleb Holt (Kirk Cameron of "Left Behind: the Movie") and his pretty brunette hospital P.R. wife Catherine (Erin Bethea of "Facing the Giants") are struggling to maintain their marriage after seven years. Catherine doesn't spend enough time shopping for them at the grocery store, and sex-starved Caleb spends too much time surfing Internet porn sites. She can get neither a wheelchair nor a hospital bed for her stroke-stricken mom. When she isn't at the hospital, Catherine spends every weekend at her parents' house. Meanwhile, callous Caleb dreams of owning his own boat. Each confides in their friends that the other is impossible to live with and each claims that the other doesn't realize all the pain that they have stirred up. Worse, our hero and heroine don't go to Sherwood Baptist Churchill, and their future happiness as a couple is doomed unless they become Christians.

During one of Caleb's temper tantrums, hubby gets up in his wifey's face, and Catherine utters the D word—divorce—because he scares her. Along comes Caleb's born-again, evangelical father John Holt (Harris Malcolm), who endures a four-hour drive to see junior. John presents Caleb with a 40-day Biblically-inspired "Love Dare" manual to mend marriages with scriptures. Dear old, white-haired dad assures junior in solemn tones that the manual succeeded for mom and he. Caleb refuses to discuss God, but he is desperate enough to try the manual. Twenty days later, Caleb witnesses no visible change in his wife's adamant attitude. In fact, Catherine suspects everything that he is doing is designed to make her look bad in divorce court! Moreover, Caleb doesn't know that Catherine is flirting with a physician, Dr. Anderson (Walter Burnett of "Flywheel"), who is separated from his own wife. Caleb is at his wit's end. He's brought her cheap flowers, stopped arguing with her, and washed the dishes. Caleb's black firefighting buddy tells him to stop acting like a pinch-penny. Eventually, Caleb converts to Christianity and suddenly everything is roses. He wins Catherine back, and they reaffirm their vows as Christians and they live happily ever after.

Just about all movies—Hollywood or independent—spout propaganda. Propaganda in a movie only bothers me when the movie stinks like stale cheese. Unfortunately, most propaganda movies conform their stories so that the stories serve the propaganda. "Fireproof" qualifies as nothing short of a Sunday morning sermon. Heavy-handed as the Kendricks are with their life affirming message, their latest squeaky clean melodrama doesn't even have the depth of a 1960s soap opera. Nobody but an aggressive, hardcore churchgoer would tolerate this predictable potboiler. Best known for his TV show "Growing Pains," Kirk Cameron hams it up as Caleb along with an amateurish cast in this hopelessly unrealistic drama. Indeed, we feel no sympathy for either of the leads. Caleb is downright obnoxious, while Catherine is ignornant. Erin Bethea has a future in soap commercials. No doubt, the Kendrick congregation and churches that support mindless, antiseptic movies will pack in their flocks for this loquacious fare. Interestingly, blacks and whites intermingle in a denomination free form of Christianity. Further, no churches are shown during the action. Eventually, "Fireproof" will come to a church near you and Christian marriage counselors will no doubt urge congregational showings.

You might perspire for a tense second or two during a car removal scene on a railway track. Otherwise, nobody gets within hailing distance of death in "Fireproof" so the movie lacks any real honest-to-God drama. Naturally, the firefighting sequences are routine compared with those in the Kurt Russell movie "Backdraft" (1991) about Chicago firefighters. Furthermore, no firefighter in his right mind would remove his gear during a blaze like Caleb does in one sequence. Caleb and Catherine are so monumentally moronic that they should have gotten a divorce. Not only are they numb-skulls, they are dull numb-skulls. At one point, the "Love Dare" manual recommends that the owner rid themselves of anything that might be an addiction. Caleb destroys his Internet computer with a baseball bat. Wouldn't it have been easier to install an anti-porn feature? Furthermore, when Caleb takes days off from the fire department, he forgets to do everything but sleep and stare at porn. The Holts are the most irresponsible married couple imaginable.

Georgia-based Tyler Perry makes Christian-themed films about African-Americans that do not insult your intelligence with their complete lack of subtlety. Okay, the best moments in "Fireproof" are the funniest and they involve the next door neighbors, the black hospital nurses aides, and the goofy white fireman who chugs Wrath of God hot sauce. These moments constitute only about a tenth of the film's two hour feature length. The rest of the characters consist of stereotypes in situations that are predictable. Just because you're a Christian doesn't mean that you have to support amateurish Christian movies. "Fireproof" amounts to nothing more than a polished Christian scare film from the 1950s about drug, sex, and sex abuse.

(Editor's Note: This is a movie review about a movie, not an attack on Christianity.)

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