Subjecting myself to God’s Not Dead 2 in its entirety was one of those things that sounded like a good idea at the time. Cross the imaginary cultural divide and report back, that’s classic gonzo stuff! Turns out, it wasn’t an especially illuminating experience. My main takeaway was that sometimes a cat turd tastes just like it smells.
God’s Not Dead 2 is almost two hours of paranoid misinformation lifted from email chains, a film that uses faith as a wedge issue, repetitively slaughtering straw men they barely put clothes on first, and one that spends most of its running time disproving an argument no one made. Which of course raises the question, what did I expect? What could one conceivably expect from a movie called God’s Not Dead 2, anyway? The title itself combines a hot take on Nietzsche while advertising itself as a sequel to a film that was essentially an adaptation of the Marine Todd meme. Why challenge urban legends when you can retell them? “My Cousin Jimmy Says Girls Pee From Their Butt: The Movie.”
I guess I should’ve expected exactly this. But even I was occasionally surprised by the sheer cynicism of this whole endeavor. God’s Not Dead 2 is a movie about belief whose main function is to make me wonder if the writers actually believed this stuff. They can’t really, right? And I don’t mean the parts about Christ and the resurrection, I mean all the different groups who are supposedly a-comin’ for your Bibles. This is a movie far less concerned with Christ than it is with secret Muslims, “elitists,” and all manner of yellow-fanged secularizers.
Melissa Joan Hart stars as Grace, a teacher who, during a lesson about MLK and Gandhi, answers a student’s question about whether MLK’s policy of non-violent disobedience is also like Jesus’. Grace says it is, and the next thing you know, the ACLU and an army of butch protesters descend on the town to take away her teaching credentials. Torn from the the fake headlines! “These people see Christianity as sort of like smallpox, or polio, or the plague,” Grace’s lawyer tells her, in case you missed the disease-to-be-eradicated metaphor the first time.
In any case, the ACLU sends down a shark played by Ray Wise, who actually says “I won’t stop until we prove once and for all that God is dead!” Because that is definitely the kind of thing atheists and agnostics like to say. Or at least it was in the 1880s, if you look up Nietzche quotes on Wikipedia.
To Grace’s rescue comes handsome heartthrob Jesse Metcalfe, who looks almost as huggable and sweet as his client, whose increasingly ridiculous fake eyelashes have her looking like a crucifix-clad Minnie Mouse. The whole thing has that ’50s Disney vibe, where all the good guys are doe-eyed babyfaces and the bad guys are fat ugly hook-nosed smirkers. That is, except for the extended cameo by Pure Flix founder David AR White, as a pastor who refuses the government’s attempt to subpoena his sermons. He’s a good guy, despite looking like a desiccated Chad Kroeger with even stupider hair. You can always tell which one’s the producer is in these movies.
Most of the action comes down to this “climactic” court battle between Hunky McSoulpatch (Metcalfe) and the tan bad guy from Robocop (Wise). The film’s overwhelming theme is “They hate us ’cause they ain’t us,” and I figured the most useful thing I could do here is to recount who “they” are, according to the filmmakers. Just in case you’re ever mistook for one.
I mean, duh. According to Grace’s grandfather, played by Pat Boone, “the most basic right of every citizen is to know Jesus.” The ACLU, despite having “civil liberties” in the title, does not stand for this right, according to God’s Not Dead 2, and instead shows up to small towns with armies of suspiciously lesbian-looking protesters to make sure a high school teacher who mentions the name of Jesus in a historical context loses her teaching credentials. Incidentally, some of the protesters carry signs that say “God” inside a circle with a slash through it.
See above. None of these people are ever mentioned by name or allowed dialogue, it’s sort of just assumed that an army of sign-wielding secularists are prepared to support the ACLU like a Storm Trooper detachment. They never quite spit on the Christians, but they come close.
Grace’s union representative is a bitter teacher on the eve of her retirement, played by Natalie Canerday, with a thoroughly unpleasant chain-smoker wheeze. She ends up testifying against Grace, on account of she’s always resented Grace’s positivity. Unions, man.
Ivy League Universities
The student whose question Grace answered, Brooke, comes to Christianity after her brother dies, when she finds a Bible in his box of stuff. His agnostic parents are just throwing out his stuff as if he didn’t exist, because secular folks don’t mourn the dead, apparently. Brooke is too young to testify in Grace’s defense, but her parents agree to be plaintiffs on her behalf after the evil ACLU guy convinces them that persecuting Christians will make her look more attractive to Ivy League schools. Ah, so that’s how that works.
People Who Watch Pretty Little Liars
Jury selection turns out to be as important a part of God’s Not Dead 2 as it is during the O.J. Simpson trial in American Crime Story. Beefcake Esquire wants to pack the box with believers, ACLU dude with whatever the opposite of that are (East Coast elites?). Bad guy asks the jurors their favorite TV show. One potential juror says “Duck Dynasty,” and immediately gets booted by ACLU. Everyone knows those who walk with duck calls stand with Christ! Another younger girl answers “Pretty Little Liars,” and Hunk Guy boots her without hesitation or explanation. I don’t get it, is Pretty Little Liars the new Harry Potter in fundamentalist circles, or was the writer of God’s Not Dead 2 just airing personal grievances through a religious narrative, Dante-style? If I’m being honest, it’s these little head-scratcher moments that keep me coming back to movies like this. Later, the ACLU guy boots a juror for being a Marine. No word on if his name was Todd.
Evil lawyer guy’s opening statement includes a lengthy Islam analogy, not as a way to hint at the dangers of theocracy, but in a plea for multiculturalism. “Imagine you’re a good Muslim, sitting in class in your head scarf, and some teacher gets up and starts talking about Jesus! The nerve!” He never quite advocates instituting Sharia law, but you can tell the film wants its target audience to think he’s about to.
God’s Not Dead 2‘s most inexplicable character is Martin Yang, a Chinese immigrant who shows up to church with a series of “147 questions about the nature of faith” written on a yellow legal pad. Those Asians, so thorough! Martin is one of the good ones though. His father eventually shows up from China to call him a fool and disown him over his faith. Martin makes a clean break from his parents, and finds happiness in the process. Thus, the movie conflates accepting Christ with accepting capitalism and America.
Side note, here’s a little thought experiment for you: imagine a set of parents, and a child they’re disowning. Who would you say is most often the devoutly religious one, the disowner or the disownee?
This one’s obvious, but also takes some explaining. David A.R. White plays a pastor who gets picked for Grace’s jury (who later comes down with appendicitis, but that’s another story). Meanwhile, he’s also the target of a government subpoena. The government wants to see his sermons. It’s never explained whether this subpoena is related to the ACLU case against Grace (she doesn’t got to White’s church, as far as I can tell) or if it’s just a random subpoena (which I don’t think is a thing?). The character played by the movie’s producer bravely defies the subpoena, saying, “The pressure that we’re feeling today will mean persecution tomorrow — we’re at war!”
Ah yes, there’s the rub. We must fight back against reasonable measures, like saying “Happy Holidays!” to people who might not celebrate Christmas, lest they become unreasonable in the future, like the government being able to decide the content of your sermons. It’s like Obamacare for your church!
As weird as this storyline is, it fits with God’s Not Dead 2‘s larger theme: trying to ascribe nefarious motives to any attempt at inclusiveness. God’s Not Dead 2 tries to pull that My Cousin Vinny move at the end, where the good lawyer invalidates his entire previous argument by switching strategies at the end. Hunky’s new strategy? Sarcasm. “Let’s throw ’em in jail!” he says of his own client. “Throw ’em in jail for believing anything! All in the name of ‘diversity!'”
The credits roll (to a new song by hip Christian rock group Newsboys), followed by a message urging the audience to text #GodsNotDead to 10 friends. Which is a perfectly obnoxious and hollow stand to take, directed at anyone who can’t tell a reasonable request to stop being such a dick from religious persecution. These filmmakers aren’t satisfied until your personal search for Jesus turns into outright trolling. That’s why the poisonousness of this kind of rhetoric, even while being sloppily delivered, goes much further than just one crappy movie.
Vince Mancini is a writer, comedian, and podcaster. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.