The faith-based family move The Identical is currently in theaters. It features some well known Hollywood actors, including Ray Loitta and Ashley Judd. Last night my wife and I were thinking about going to see a movie, and I did a quick search on reviews of The Identical. Rotten Tomatoes critics gave the movie a 5% rating, one of the lowest ever in the history of the movie review service. Interestingly, the audience gave the movie a respectable 76% rating. I thought we might go based upon the audience appraisals.
As I began to read the reviews, I thought something along these lines, "Well, maybe Hollywood just doesn't understand faith-based, family value movies like The Identical."
Then I read that Christianity Today gave The Identical one star out of five. The review is worth reading. Words like 'lame,' 'surreal,' and 'odd' are sprinkled throughout the review. Again, not having seen the movie, I am not passing judgment, just information. Christianity Today's review gives a synopsis The Identical in four closing paragraphs which are worth quoting:
Weirdest of all, when Ryan has a rock-bottom moment and goes to a bar and orders a whiskey (thus proving it’s a genuine “rock-bottom moment”), he is confronted and comforted by a dwarf. The little man, played by Danny Woodburn (an actor with dwarfism best known for his Seinfeld role as Kramer’s volatile friend Mickey), actually says to Ryan, “You’re lookin’ for somethin’, aren’t you? Let me give you a hint, Ryan Wade. It ain’t here. But keep lookin’. You’ll find it eventually.”
It’s lame dialogue, yes. But you won’t really care. Because you’ll be dwelling on the fact that there was a specific filmmaking choice to have a dwarf, shorter than the barstool, suddenly appear out of thin air, just to give a pep talk to our hero at the film’s climactic moment. It’s so strange and surreal and startling, it’s as if Rhett Butler had said, “Frankly, my dear, pull my finger.” Or if Darth Vader had told Luke, “I am your father’s chiropractor.” It’s just head-shakingly odd.
If you really want to see a great movie about twins separated at birth, re-watch Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Or either version of The Parent Trap.In press materials, The Identical describes itself as “a redemptive movie,” “a captivating story about a family restored, and a life discovered,” and “a drama . . . that powerfully explores two questions that constantly tug at our souls: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What am I here for?’”
But it doesn’t answer the question that’s tugging at mine: When I hit rock bottom, will a kindly, wise, cliché-spouting, hippie dwarf come and save me too?Ouch.
Surprisingly, I was still inclined to see the movie, even after reading Christianity Today's review. What soured me, and what gave rise to my inner angst was an article I read by an irreverent comedian who took to task the movie's producers. I found myself agreeing with the irreverent comedian.
The producers of The Identical are telling Christians that 'The Identical" is a wonderful faith-based, family movie! They are putting the first 15 minutes of the movie on-line - for free - and declaring:
Mainstream film critics did not care for ‘The Identical,’ while Christian reviewers and audiences loved the movie. We are putting the first fifteen minutes online to let you decide for yourself.I went to the official website for The Identical. Immediately I was turned off. Like many modern evangelical Christians, the producers of The Identical seem to be under the impression that if you make a movie that doesn't glorify sex or violence, make use of generous profanity, or flaunt nudity, then Christians should love the movie!
Not even close.
Aristotle once said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." C.S. Lewis quoted Aristotle, and then opined, "The devil understands this well. Thus his strategy is to gently nudge us in the wrong direction. He knows that if we truly saw where we were headed, we would immediately turn away. So, he just softly leads us in the wrong direction, knowing that momentum is a difficult thing to change."
Christian filmmaking seems to be headed in the wrong direction. Evangelicals seem to have not yet developed the habit of producing excellent films, settling for shaky dialogue, shoddy acting, and sharing the belief that Christians will be 'shamed' into seeing such Christian movies because we are in a 'culture war.'
That doesn't motivate me. Evangelical Christians above all others should be producing the most stunning artistic expressions of film and music that our world experiences! Think of Bach and Beethoven. Think of Tolkien and Lewis. Forget the division between 'secular and sacred." If the universe is all God's then the arts are all His and are sacred.
It is the cheesy that denigrates God, and demotivates me to see a movie. Cheesiness is just as cheesy whether it comes wrapped in nudity or fully clothed people; with hellish curses or mind-numbing banal blessings that both take God's name in vain; with gruesome violence or cheesy heavenly visions. I don't wish to see cheesy, even if the package comes wrapped with a faith-based, family bow around it. Even more, I'll never go see a movie where Christian producers shame me into believing I should see it - in spite of its shoddiness - because we are in a 'culture war.'
After reading the attempts by the producers of The Identical to shame Christians into seeing it, I came to the conclusion I have more in common with an irreverent comedian than I do reverent Christians when it comes to watching poorly crafted movies. Give me professionalism. Give me excellence. Don't make an excuse for the absence of either, particularly if you are a follower of Jesus Christ who radiates the glory of God and sustains the universe by the power of His Word.
He deserves better.
And so do we.