I don't understand.
How can a marvelous film like Christian Vuissa's "The Errand of Angels" find itself in limited release while the latest film from the Kendrick Brothers, "Fireproof," in a relatively wide release of 875 theatres nationwide?
I don't begrudge the Kendrick Brothers success. In fact, I admire the ministry of the Sherwood Baptist Church ministers and their fervent drive to use film as a tool to evangelize.
I loved "Facing the Giants," their breakthrough film.
I even enjoyed Alex Kendrick's first film, "Flywheel."
With "Fireproof," Alex Kendrick steps out of the starring role and hands it to former "Growing Pains" star and "Bibleman" Kirk Cameron. Cameron plays Albany firefighter Caleb Holt, a man whose work motto is "Never leave your partner behind," but a man who is steadfastly leaving behind his neglected wife, Catherine (Erin Bethea, "Facing the Giants"). With his marriage heading for divorce, Caleb turns to his pops (Harris Malcolm). His father challenges him, before he ends his marriage, to attempt reconciliation by following "The Love Dare," a 40-day 12-steppish program to repair a marriage.
Not so coincidentally, "The Love Dare" also happens to be a book written by Alex Kendrick himself. This, at times, makes "Fireproof" seem like a melodramatic infomercial for a book that doesn't really say much more than "Be kind. Stop being a jackass. Don't check out internet porn."
Despite its alleged focus on marital reconciliation, "Fireproof" very much focuses its energy on the men in the film without every convicting them of their fatal flaws. Indeed, Jesus forgives but Caleb's obsession with a boat and his fondness for internet porn aren't convincingly resolved by the end of the film, nor is Catherine's rather innocent by today's standards flirtations with a co-worker.
As played by Cameron, Caleb is really not much more than a spoiled brat. Laughable, as well, was the almost reverent tone in which comparisons were made between firefighting and divinity.
Last time I checked, the domestic violence and substance abuse rates among firefighters (and most "public servants") were among the highest of any profession. Holier than thou? I don't think so.
What drops "Fireproof" down a notch, as well, is that it's not nearly as accessible to the general public as was "Facing the Giants." While its audience may very well end up bigger, given the success of its predecessor, "Fireproof" will appeal almost exclusively to Christians while "Facing the Giants" had a faith message that could reach a much wider audience.
On the positive side, Cameron offers a surprisingly satisfying performance as the man who finds God and marital bliss (Oops, was that a spoiler?. Cameron is quite open about his Christianity, and his acting career has primarily consisted of "Bibleman" and the "Left Behind" series. While he's made a name for himself in the Christian arts community, "Fireproof" offers a bit of proof that Hollywood should still find a place for this young man.
Erin Bethea, on the other hand, doesn't have quite the range to pull off Catherine, a woman who doesn't initially buy into the idea of reconciliation but who gradually rediscovers her love for Caleb. Given Cameron's openness regarding his boundaries with other women due to his faith, one has to wonder why the Kendrick Brothers didn't simply cast Cameron's real life wife, Chelsea Noble. The authentic chemistry might've made the move towards reconciliation feel more authentic as it progressed.
As they did with "Facing the Giants," the Kendrick brothers cast "Fireproof" utilizing mostly non-professionals and, in many cases, volunteers committed to the ministry. While this doesn't always pay off, it is surprisingly successful among the key supporting players in the film. Budgeted at a fairly modest $500,000, "Fireproof" looks to easily make back its money and likely turn another nice profit for the brothers, who are known to have donated a considerable portion of the profits from "Facing the Giants" to children's organizations.
While "Fireproof" pales in comparison to Vuissa's vastly superior and simultaneously in release "The Errand of Angels," it does succeed in its primary aim of bringing Christian values to the big screen with enough entertainment value to please both studios, in this case Samuel Goldwyn, and nationwide audiences.
It's not for everyone, but "Fireproof" should spark further interest in the cinematic ministries of Alex and Stephen Kendrick and the folks at Sherwood Baptist Church.
by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic