We Nicolas Cage fans have defended our prolific hero through thick and thin and a whole lot of seriously questionable career choices. But he doesn't make it easy.

It's possible to forgive his paycheck grabs in run-of-the-mill junk like "Season of the Witch" and "Bangkok Dangerous" and his work in barely-there movies with titles like "Stolen," "Rage" or "Trespass."

But my goodness, what on earth is Cage doing in "Left Behind," the second crack at adapting the popular Christian novel series about the end times? That "Leaving Las Vegas" Oscar has never seemed so far away.

This is faux-spiritual bunk with a detestable purpose, packed with sincere lines like, "It's a fallen world. We destroyed it with the first sin," emotional conversations about how "You've never spoken about God before" and other moments geared directly toward reminding a theoretical audience of nonbelievers just what's in store for them.

The movie follows Cage's airline pilot Rayford Steele (yes, Rayford Steele) as he attempts to land a plane amid the chaos of the Rapture, after the world's Christian faithful have suddenly disappeared.

He's joined on the plane by a cast of stock characters, principally rock-star journalist Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murray). On the ground, his daughter Chloe (Cassi Thomson) runs places, fleeing the apocalypse and her own disbelief in a higher Christian power.

There's a reasonable quotient of unintentional laughs interspersed amid the proselytizing, mostly thanks to the terrible acting and utterly convoluted conflation of a spiritual awakening with the trauma of steering an endangered plane to safety. Ultimately, "Left Behind" is torpedoed by its agenda: Just when the movie threatens to hook you in from a dramatic standpoint, it piles on the moralizing.

Criticizing "Left Behind" for being agenda-driven is futile, of course. The series exists for one reason, after all: to promote its New Testament worldview. That still doesn't explain or excuse Cage's presence in this nonsense. It's getting harder and harder to keep justifying this stuff.

 

 

Directed by Vic Armstrong

Starring Nicolas Cage, Lea Thompson, Chad Michael Murray

Rated PG-13