In our very cynical times one could argue that the kind of movie genre needed more than ever is the faith-based drama. And with recent spiritual outings such as “Risen,” “Miracles From Heaven” and “The Young Messiah” invading the box office this movie season, it would seem Hollywood agrees as we are subjected to yet another — the well-meaning but mawkish God’s Not Dead 2, the sequel to the surprise Christian uplifting hit from 2014, “God’s Not Dead.” However, director Harold Cronk presenting his sequel as a wholesome production is not necessarily a golden ticket to escaping the perceived realm of a heavy-handed, cinematic sermon.
The devout religious themes that are explored in Cronk’s thought-provoking showcase may be involving to those whose piousness is uncompromising, but for others they may be prone to the off-putting unbalance of perspectives. Sure, God’s Not Dead 2 is entitled to its personalized tilt when thumping its biblical leanings. Still, there is a sense of unfair play because the film never seems to bother challenging a contrasting point of view to its noble belief system. Cronk’s Christian-based cradle of evangelizing feels one-sided in its customized cloying. Had the presence of non-believers managed to carry an equal (or even a semi-equal) voice and offer a contrasting philosophy without the targeted villainous vibes then God’s Not Dead 2 could have overcome its formulaic foundation.
Thankfully, the acting is solid despite the maudlin material at large. Former child star Melissa Joan Hart (from the 90’s TV sitcom “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”) plays Arkansas-based high school teacher Grace Wesley who gets into hot water when she is caught speculating on the historical importance of Jesus Christ to her curious students. Naturally this causes an uproar with the school administrator Kinney (Robin Givens, “Four Seasons”) whose concern over Grace’s embedded Christianity serves as a conflict of interest regarding church and state. Bottom line: Kinney and her colleagues need Grace to apologize for her critical faux pas aimed at her impressionable history students, but the defiant educator refuses to do so. The result: A civil lawsuit from the parents is initiated with gung-ho ACLU attorney Pete Kane (an over-the-top Ray Wise, “The Lazarus Effect”) leading the charge. Poor Grace . . . it looks as if her confrontation with the legal system may lead to her professional ruination.
With the many zealots out to persecute the pretty Christian high school teacher she gets some much-needed courtroom protection from hunky defense attorney Tom Endler (Jesse Metcalfe from TV’s “Desperate Housewives” and “Dallas” reboot). After all, where is the justice when a classroom instructor innocently tries to teach an innocuous course about historical non-violent figureheads as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi only to end up being an Evangelical cheerleader for Christ’s sacred agenda at the expense of impressionable high schoolers? How can the Christian convictions of Ms. Wesley be on trial when seemingly volcanic vultures such as Kane and the pack of intolerant atheists are out to squash the momentous message of our Savior?
In another display of religious allegory bias, we have “God’s Not Dead” returning character Reverend Dave (the film’s co-producer David A.R. White) facing the same kind of scrutiny as Grace in the name of Christian integrity. Reverend Dave is ordered to turn over transcripts of his sermons but he resists the subpoena’s insistence to do so. Thus, the implied notion is that there is some kind of conspiracy to submerge the Christianity values that weigh so heavily favorable in the Arkansas Bible belt. In fact, the suggestion of conservative Christians succumbing to the decadence and doubts of religious naysayers may be a widespread concern outside of the Arkansan state borders as well.
The consistent and constant plus in God’s Not Dead 2 is its undeniable embracing of its committed lesson in reverence and believing in the cherished holiness of its impacting commentary. To this end, Cronk and screenwriters Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman concentrate on what made the first edition so unassumingly winning in its original blueprint. Their second installment, additionally, boasts better production values and more familiar household names in leads such as television veterans Hart, Metcalfe and Wise, along with known supporting players that are sprinkled throughout this Christian court case confessional. Nevertheless, God’s Not Dead 2 cannot overcome its unintentional cheesiness, manufactured compassion and one-sided ideology that fails to allow any formidable counter punch to its theoretical and theological insights.