God may not be dead, but it's not for this movie's lack of trying.
"God's Not Dead 2" is a pathetically inept take at proselytizing, bludgeoning the audience with moral lessons in increasingly bizarre and silly ways. While not bad as unintended comedy or the basis of Choose Your Own Drinking Game, it's a sad little prison of a movie.
Clarissa, explain this one.
Former teen star Melissa Joan Hart completes her long, sad decline into whatever as Grace, a teacher who is sued for preaching the Gospel during AP History class. Hart rotates pained expressions throughout, wearing a drooping frown and eyes that have seen into the dark void of Nickelodeon, ABC Family and beyond. Either she's really into the role or just really depressed that "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" didn't lead to bigger things.
You can't blame Grace for being down in the dumps. She's unhappily single, slaving away in front of whiteboards by day and playing servant to her 82-year-old grandpa at night. His vocabulary consists entirely of Evangelical memes, such as "Atheism doesn't take away pain, it just takes away the hope" and "Prayer is the last thing people do, when it should be the first," ignorant of the fact that Grace's prayers that he will just shut up are going unanswered.
Grace delivers plenty of her own made-for-Facebook one-liners, such as "I'd rather stand with God and be judged by the world than stand with the world and be judged by God."
Only one person is having any fun. That would be Ray Wise, who wears a Grinch-like sneer as he plays Peter Kane, the prosecuting attorney who is not simply content with destroying Grace's life because she's Christian. He has all the best lines, including when he stares at the camera with an insane glare and declares he will "prove once and for all that God is dead."
Other choice accidental zingers include Grace's conniving principal yelling at the football coach to stop locker room and post-game prayers, as well as the insensitive teacher's union rep who quips that Grace "can't chew a stick of gum without praying first."
There is also one of the greatest slaps ever put to film, involving an unrelated side story in which a Korean man who confesses his faith to his disapproving father. It's "How I Met Your Mother" "Slapsgiving" worthy, but weak compared to the pummeling the film as a whole delivers to the audience.
The biggest surprise, other than the fact that there was a "God's Not Dead 1," is that the actors manage to deliver all their dialogue without cracking up. Maybe it helps that many of the people who appear aren't actors at all.
The film marches out a parade of devout pseudo-celebrities, such as author Lee Strobel and J. Warner Wallace, as well a Christian pop band The Newsboys, performing a celebratory concert at Grand Canyon University. While storytelling and acting are the movie's weak spots, the movie nails the whole pandering thing.
In case the symbolism and subtlety of the film escapes you, the ending black screen with white lettering ordering you to "text everyone you know" that God exists. The more likely texts it will inspire will read "avoid this movie."
RATING: 1 star out of 4.
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