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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

God's Not Dead 2  (2016)
1 Star
Directed by Harold Cronk.
Cast: Melissa Joan Hart, Jesse Metcalfe, Hayley Orrantia, David A.R. White, Benjamin Onyango, Trisha LaFache, Paul Kwo, Ray Wise, Pat Boone, Ernie Hudson, Robin Givens, Carey Scott, Maria Canals-Barrera, Natalie Canerday, Fred Thompson, Sadie Robertson, Jon Lindstrom, Brad Heller, Mallory Brooks, Taylor Eaves.
2016 – 121 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for some thematic elements).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, December 23, 2016.
The core debate swirling around the characters in faith-based drama "God's Not Dead 2" is not an invalid one, but the nuance and complexity of the issue is traded in for ludicrous, over-the-top grandstanding and the kind of insipid stereotyping that reveals it to be nothing more than a hypocritical charade. Director Harold Cronk and screenwriters Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon (all returning from 2014's equally saccharine predecessor) tackle this project with the authenticity of third-graders who have no idea how the world works or even that the spectrum of human emotions and religious belief can be shaded beyond inky blacks and snowy whites.

When soul-searching student Brooke (Hayley Orrantia) asks a question in class comparing Gandhi to Christ, 11th-grade AP history teacher Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart) gives what she believes is a succinct, straightforward answer, citing a passage from the Bible to back up her affirmative response. This solitary moment sparks outrage among secular parents and the public school board, sending Grace, who maintains she has done nothing wrong and refuses to apologize, directly to court. Defended by attorney Tom Endler (Jesse Metcalfe), Grace is thrust into the unwanted spotlight. Attacked for nothing less than her own Christian beliefs, her career and livelihood hang in the balance of the jury's ultimate verdict.

"God's Not Dead 2" is ceaselessly sincere at best and patently offensive at worst, a film that paints every Christian character as a beacon of holy light and goodness and everyone else (save, perhaps, for Tom) as irrational, angry, morally bankrupt, spiritually lost villains. If Ray Wise's sniveling, Christian-hating prosecutor Peter Kane had a mustache, he'd be stroking it throughout. The same goes for Brooke's parents (Carey Scott and Maria Canals-Barrera), who not only do not see eye to eye with her on the subject, but care so little about their daughter they do not once bother to even talk to her in private or work out their grief over her older brother's death six months earlier.

The legal dispute at the movie's center is actually a compelling one, exploring the rights and wrongs of Grace's actions in class and whether what she did violated the separation of church and state. Alas, all these thoughtful questions are thrown out in favor of an ignorant ulterior motive to represent Christians as oppressed martyrs whose magnitude of discrimination goes far beyond that of other forms, be it racism or xenophobia. As literally fist-shaking non-believers stand outside the courtroom protesting day after day (the trial, by the way, gets underway what appears to be the same week the inciting incident occurs), Grace looks to God to give her the strength and courage she needs to fight a presumed losing battle.

Religious persecution is a serious matter, but "God's Not Dead 2" hasn't a clue how to approach it without condescending to its target audience and casting a spurious, uniformed shadow over anyone else on the screen who doesn't happen to share the same spiritual beliefs. The depictions of how a courtroom and trial work are such caricatures of reality as to be frequently hilarious (yes, a person even bursts through the doors at the last minute to demand she be called as a witness). As for the third-act twist, it hinges upon the "revelation" that a swing juror with multicolored hair (billed as "Goth Girl" in the credits) is actually a—gasp!—Christian herself! Cue Christian rock band The Newsboys and their concert performance of a little song called "God's Not Dead" to complete the film's childlike pandering and faux inspiration. Under the guise of well-meaning moralizing, "God's Not Dead 2" little by little reveals an ugly and distasteful hidden agenda, one that self-righteously goes against the movie's alleged messages of acceptance and religious freedom.
© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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