Earnest Fireproof Could Use More Spark
- Friday, September 26, 2008
DVD Release Date: January 27, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: September 26, 2008
Rating: PG (for thematic material and some peril)
Run Time: 122 min.
Director: Alex Kendrick
Actors: Kirk Cameron, Erin Bethea, Ken Bevel, Bailey Cave, Jason McLeod, Jim McBride, Harris Malcolm, Phyllis Malcolm
The Kendrick brothers—writer/director Alex and co-writer Stephen—are becoming a powerful duo in the world of Christian filmmaking.
Their earlier film, Facing the Giants, surprised Hollywood insiders by grossing more than $10 million on a budget of just $100,000. A unique release strategy catering to churches showed that the Christian audience—elusive but still sought after since the unexpected success of The Omega Code in 1999 and the unprecedented reach of The Passion of the Christ in 2004—would continue to turn out for the right film.
Plenty of eyes will be trained on Fireproof, the Kendricks’ follow up to Facing the Giants, which has been screening for pastors and is counting on word of mouth among the Christian community to garner the same kind of attention generated by Giants.
Earnest but predictable, Fireproof wants its good intentions to compensate for a lack of imagination. Those intentions, as stated by the Kendricks in a video interview, are to re-inject God’s purpose for marriage back into our culture, emphasizing that marriage is a covenant, not just a contract. Headlining the drama is former teenage heartthrob Kirk Cameron, of TV’s Growing Pains and, more recently, the Left Behind movies. Cameron plays Caleb Holt. a firefighter who follows the motto “never leave your partner” while on the job, but who, on the home front, is watching his marriage to Catherine (Erin Bethea) come apart.
Catherine is upset that Caleb wants her to do certain household chores and errands during his days off. Instead of tending to the couple’s financial and emotional stability, Caleb obsesses over a boat and takes an unhealthy interest in Internet sites that his wife describes as “trash.”
Michael (Ken Bevel), a co-worker who has a healthy marriage, advises Caleb to consult a counselor, but Michael’s prayers of thanksgiving to God after a close call suggest a Higher Power is the key to his inner strength. Meanwhile, Caleb, hoping to stave off divorce proceedings, yields to his father’s (Harris Malcolm) prodding and undertakes a 40-day course designed to rekindle the love he and Catherine once felt for each other.
A sampling: On Day 1, resolve to say nothing negative to your spouse; on Day 2, do an unexpected act of kindness; on Day 3, buy something that says you’re thinking of your spouse. But while Caleb pursues Catherine, she’s pursuing a relationship with another man, driving Caleb to his most vulnerable point yet. When Caleb’s father tells his son that the secret to his own marital bond is a shared Christian faith with Caleb’s mother, Caleb is forced to confront his own need for inner strength and peace amidst the turmoil in his life and marriage.
Many of us have salvation stories that involve long resistance to God’s calling, with salvation coming only after we reach rock bottom. The Kendricks are seeking to tap into that widely shared experience in hopes that viewers will relate. The problem with such an approach is that the inner turmoil experienced prior to conversion is difficult to dramatize outwardly, and Cameron simply doesn’t have the chops to pull it off. He shifts between two modes as an actor—calm and screaming mad. Costar Bethea's performance is a bit more nuanced, but her work and the work of the other actors is hindered by a script that explains everything in the most direct fashion imaginable.
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