~WWJD Movie Review~
Before I begin this review, let me make something perfectly clear. I do not have a problem with religious people. I don't have a problem with religious films. Hell, I don't even have a problem with matters of faith. If faith plays a part in the story but isn't the main focus of the story, that's great. However, religious films don't seem to understand this. They put the faith and the message at the center of the film rather than the characters and their individual stories. This is what I have a problem with. This is what What Would Jesus Do is.
I've thought about several ways to approach this review. I thought about doing a full three-part review, but I finally decided on just a general review for a number of reasons.
Reason #1: The characters. There aren't any! All of these characters are nothing but cardboard cutouts to serve what little plot there is in this film. We've got the crooked newspaper editor, the musician, the pastor, the drifter, the evil mayor, and finally, we have the bitchy real estate agent. As you may have already guessed, none of these characters are interesting or well-developed. Like I said, they're only there to serve what little plot there is. Typically in a movie like this, you will have two or three character arcs going on at once. This film doesn't do that. We don't have three character story arcs going on, not even four, but seven character arcs being told at the exact same time, and even some characters whose stories would be interesting aren't even elaborated on. For example, at the beginning of the film, the pastor's family is tragically killed in a car accident. Instead of elaborating on this and giving us a chance to identify with the character and get to know him better, the film simply transitions to three years later.
Like I said, most of the characters are only in the film to move the plot forward. One jarring example of this is the character of the drifter. This character has no name, so we'll just refer to him as John. Anyway, after being in town for supposedly a week or so, John walks in the church, pretty much calls most of the people there hypocrites before finally collapsing. His rousing speech causes the members of the congregation to reflect on their lives and want to better themselves.
Not only are the characters shallow and uninteresting, but their personalities are constantly changing. When John goes to Diane the newspaper editor for a job, she rudely refuses to give him a job. Later, she goes to Henry the pastor and gives him a check for, and I'm not kidding about this, $25,000! Okay, if she had that much money, why the hell didn't she give at least a small amount of it to John? Another example involving this character is her printing risque pictures to bump up interest in the campaign. Later, she simply refuses. One other example is the mother of Virginia, the real estate agent, going off on a rant about the fact that Virginia brought home a homeless girl. The very next scene shows the same bitchy mother having a polite conversation with the girl, saying that the girl now has a family and even going as far as taking her out shopping. One other example is the musician's mother chewing him out over the fact that he refused to sign the contract that the record producers gave him. His reason for doing is that he didn't like the lyrics and felt like they were producing sin. His mother goes on to say that he's a fanatic and asks him what they are going to do when they're living on the streets. Yet later in the movie, we saw that she was in church with her son. You see, none of these characters are inconsistent!
Not only that, but none of the characters are particularly likeable. When John first meets most of them, they all come off as extremely bitchy and rude. For example, when he first meets Virginia, she pretty much tells him to fuck off or she will call the cops. When he points out that he's not committing any crime, she orders him to leave. After he leaves, her secretary suggests that they at least give him something to eat, to which she replies with this, “Feeding a man like that is like feeding a dog. You throw them a bone and you'll never get rid of them. Throw that stuff in the trash.” The mother of Max, the musician, is also extremely unlikeable. The reason why I say this is because the film portrays her as a woman who isn't doing anything to help her and her son. Instead, she is completely relying on her son getting a music contract as payment. It seems as if she lives off welfare and food stamps and works as a toilet scrubber. I'm not kidding. During her rant against her son refusing to sign the contract, she says, “I have scrubbed every toilet in this town, Max!” Wow! Here's a piece of advice for you, bitch: get a real fucking job and actually provide for your kid! And for that matter, why the hell is this guy still living with his mom? This guy looks like he's in his thirties. He should be well out of college and on his own by now.
Hell, the only likeable character in this whole film is the mayor, and he's portrayed as the villain. Now, get this. This guy is looking out for the best interest of the people. What he's wanting to do is tear down the church that our heroes go to and turn it into a hotel casino. He promises that a new bigger and better church will be built in a new location. Now here comes the kicker. The characters and even the film itself sees this as a bad thing. According to Virginia, what the mayor is doing is, word for word, “tearing down an institution of good and devoting it to one of evil.” How is that evil? I'm not a Bible scholar, but I don't recall anything in Scripture that says gambling is a sin. Hell, if you read the story of Jonah, the people on the ship gambled to determine who was responsible for the terrible storm that was happening. But I digress. According to the characters and the film itself, a hotel casino is a bad thing. No, building a hotel casino to attract tourism and create jobs for people . . . is a good thing! As the mayor said, it would create jobs, give people not only money, but also self-respect. Well, okay, the townspeople are likeable to, but only because they start chucking things at the pastor when he tells them that York is wrong and what they really need is salvation. That's right. Fuck having money, a job, or self-respect. Being saved and being a Christian is far more important!
Reason #2: The dialogue. God, the dialogue! The dialogue in this film is horrendous! Most of the dialogue in this film, like any other Christian film, is very poorly written. The writers of this film seem to believe that we the viewers are morons and need to be reminded of the type of film we're watching. To remedy this, the characters will oftentimes just randomly spout out Bible verses for no other reason than to remind us that this is a religious film. In the first scene between Henry and John, the latter is just about to leave when he just randomly quotes a Bible verse. He does this again when he first meets Alex York, the mayor, aka the villain of our film. However, I will applaud the writers for one thing. During this scene, we have this exchange. John says that the people of the town don't need food, but the Word of God. He then goes on to quote yet another Bible verse. Now this is the part I like. York then asks John, “How will serving God make sure that your bills are paid or that you're financially secure?” This is a very good question and the answer is, it won't, simply because God doesn't apply his timing to ours, but to his, so if you're in financial trouble and waiting for God to help you out, you'd be better off getting financial aid than waiting on God because there's no telling how long it'll take him to help you out.
One scene that had me laughing was one scene with Diane. Some guy who I guess is her partner comes in and gives her some more raunchy pictures to print in next week's paper. She refuses and when he asks her why, she asks him, “If Jesus was the editor, would he print this?” Literally, the guy starts laughing and treating it like a joke, and I was honestly right there with him laughing my ass off.
Aside from firing off Bible verses left and right, the dialogue does nothing but give us exposition. Almost all of the dialogue in this film is exposition. For example, we have a scene early on in the film where we see the pastor simply sitting at a desk. The only purpose this scene serves is to let us know that this guy is a shitty pastor and that the church is being torn down to make room for a hotel casino and the pastor only has ten days to pack his stuff and, to quote Eric Cartman, “Get the fudge out!” After John collapses, we then learn that he is in his final stages of cancer and will most likely die.
Other times the dialogue just comes off as really awkward and leaves you thinking, “Was that really in the original script?” We have one scene between Diane and York. He comes in and starts talking about how perfect apples are. I swear to God, I did not make that up! She finally gets fed up with his bullshit and asks him what he's doing there. Another scene that has this problem is one scene featuring Virginia and some random guy. After an exchange between the two, the guy then starts to randomly talk about his kid, pretty much calling his own kid stupid. The reason why Virginia is speaking to this guy to begin with is because she wants the run-down houses. The guy makes a good point in this scene. He makes the point that she and the others are not Jesus and she says, “We're not saying we are.” Yes, you are. By saying, “What would Jesus do?” you are saying that you are trying to be like Jesus.
Sometimes the dialogue just doesn't make any damn sense. There are a good amount of examples here. For example, after York's confrontation with John, he has a chat with a man who was supposedly jailed for robbery. He bribes him into getting rid of John for him and after giving him a bit of money says, “You know where to find me to get the rest.” No, Alex, he doesn't. You two don't even know each other. You literally just met. He has no clue as to where to find you. But don't worry. The poorly written script will solve that problem for us by having the guy know exactly where to go to find York.
The next scene with this guy is confusing. He confronts John and tells him to leave. Instead of saying anything intelligible, John simply replies that he knows what pain the guy is feeling and that he's been where he's been, he's walked where he's walked. At this point I was scratching my head wondering what the hell John was talking about. Because the film never gives us a chance to know this guy, we don't know the first thing about him. How much more interesting would it have been if we'd started this film off with John and followed him up to this point. Then when we learn that he has cancer, it would actually mean something to us.
Another example of this is when we first meet John. He and this guy he's riding with pull up to the town and John turns to his partner and says, “Remember what we talked about.” Well, what the hell did you guys talk about? We don't know, so this piece of dialogue doesn't need to be here. It doesn't add anything to the story, makes little sense, and means nothing to us.
Reason #3: the pacing. This film is one hour and thirty minutes long. Trust me when I say that the film feels a hell of a lot longer than that. I was oftentimes checking the timer on my player to see how much longer the film would last. The pacing in this film is so damn slow that it feels like a two and a half hour long movie. Let's look at The Dark Knight films. Those films are almost three hours long, but the pacing in those films is so well done that the film doesn't feel like a three-hour-long film, but rather only an hour and a half. The same goes for Titanic. The second part actually was an hour and half long. The first part was two hours long, but the pacing in that first part was so well done that it felt at least an hour shorter.
I think the reason why this film feels so long is because there are so many different stories going on at once. This is a big writing no-no. Don't have more than at least two stories going on at once. If not, then your audience will get confused and trying to piece all of the individual stories together just makes it all the more confusing. In fact, that's reason #4.
Reason #4: the story. As I said, we have multiple stories going on at once. This isn't like in Crash or Titanic where all the individual stories being told at once were all put together to where they all came together as one. No. None of the individual stories being told in this story come together as one. Yes, the characters in the story come together, but it's contrived, meaning that it's not very convincing. They all come together all because of one man, who they barely knew, to save the church.
And here we have the major problem with this film. There is no story. The little plot that we have here is extremely weak. There is no conflict, neither internal or external. Writing 101: if there is no conflict, then there is no story. In order for there to be a story, there has to be some kind of conflict within the story, either internal or external, doesn't matter which one. Hell, the conflict could be internal, like a character struggling with their faith or their sexuality or their emotions. But going back to what I was saying, what is at stake here? Seriously? I mean, why the hell should it matter if the church is torn down to make sure that the people have jobs and money and self-respect? You're going to be getting a new one anyway, so why the hell does it matter? It doesn't, and we the audience have no reason whatsoever to care about it. We're not given any genuine reason to care about this, so that makes the contrived plot completely pointless!
Eventually, in a attempt to save the church, Henry and the rest of our heroes suggest that they run against York, all because he wants to tear down their church to make a hotel casino. Remember what I said that most of the dialogue in this film only serves to get us exposition? Well, in one scene at the church lasts for not even a minute. The only purpose this scene serves is to let us the audience know that Virginia is now running against York.
Finally, reason #5: the film itself. This film is not consistent. The first act looks like it completely takes all in one day. If it weren't for the dialogue, we the audience would not how much time has passed. For example, early on in the film we have a scene at the church. Not even a few scenes later, we're back at the church during which John barges in and starts his speech. At this point I was wondering if it was the same day or next week or whenever. We don't know. This is one good thing about the exposition: it at least lets us know how much time has passed within the film.
I've already talked about the characters not being consistent, so I'll talk about some of the scenes not being consistent. As I said, at the beginning of the film, we see Henry's family get killed in a car accident. How he survived is beyond me. The car accident happens so suddenly that his wife only has time to let out a scream before the collision. A few scenes later, we get a flashback of this scene with Henry's kid telling him to look out, even though in the exact same scene, the kid was clearly asleep. If the collision happened this rapidly, it's not possible that there was enough time for the kid to wake up and tell his dad to look out before the collision.
One other consistency that bothered me was the guy who tried to mug Henry, the same guy who attacked John beforehand. After this scene, this guy is never seen or heard from ever again. Hell, he's not even referenced. Once again, just like with Henry, this film misses a golden opportunity to tell a good story. According to the dialogue, this guy's family was killed. He went to Henry to see if Henry could help him and Henry suggested getting his life straightened out, which he never did. See? This sounds like an interesting story. After the exchange, Henry and the guy go to get a cup of coffee and have a chat, but that's it. The story just ends there. We're not told what happened afterward. Once again, this is one point where I would have liked some exposition, to at least let me know what happened with the guy.
So in conclusion, is this movie good? No! It's fucking boring! Now I hated The Passion of the Christ for being equally as boring, and I think I would rather watch that because more happened in that than in this movie. However, the two films do have some similarities. Both of them are extremely boring. Both of them have a contrived plot. Both of them have either unlikeable or uninteresting characters. Both are religious films. Both are thirty minutes too long. Both of them have a piss-poor script. The only things that The Passion of the Christ has going for it is both the acting and the music, neither of which are quite good in this film. A lot of the time the music doesn't even fit the scene, like the scene between York and Diane in the newsroom.
Like I said at the beginning, I do not have a problem with religious people or stories in which religion plays a part. I do, however, have a problem with stories where religion plays a major part or is the central focus. The problem with films like WWJD is that they put the religious aspect and the message front and center in favor of the characters and the story, where we get shit like this: a film that has a very poorly written plot, poorly written dialogue, a religious overtone, preachy messages, and where everything that goes against the religion is treated as either evil or a tool of Satan. The end.
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