Teched by an angel
HEAVEN IS FOR REAL ★★ Directed by Randall Wallace. Starring Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Jacob Vargas, Thomas Haden Church PG cert, 99 min
What in the almighty Kong is this? Until now, Irish film patrons have been spared most of Hollywood’s “faith films”. And we were happier for having missed out on a genre defined by that uniquely American marriage of fundamentalism and patriotism, of Jesus and Stars & Stripes. These things seldom travel well outside the flyover states.
We suspect that Heaven Is for Real has been earmarked for grander things due to the personnel attached, including Kelly Reilly, Greg Kinnear and Thomas Haden Church. It’s directed by Randall Wallace, the writer behind Braveheart. And still it comes off like a second-rate episode of Highway to Heaven or Touched by an Angel.
It’s not just that the film is black propaganda: where would cinema be without the ideologically suspect Olympia or pro-military entertainments such as Lone Survivor? No, it’s just that Heaven Is for Real is really bad at being a faith film.
Adapted from a 2010 best-selling Christian memoir, the movie opens with Kinnear’s nice-guy minister running between his duties on the pulpit, duties as a firefighter and duties as a saintly family man.
Life changes (slightly) when Colton, his four-year-old son, goes to the titular after-world during a surgical procedure. Returning from the hitherto undiscovered country, Colton talks of meeting a bluegreen-eyed Jesus, dead relatives and a rainbow-coloured horse.
The concerned community respond in the strongest possible terms: they call a meeting of the church board. A random psychologist pops up with a secular explanation, one that is swiftly dismissed.
But Colton didn’t die during surgery. So even by its own internal logic, Heaven Is for Real is not, well, real. And our hero’s Christian flock appear to take offence at his son’s Christian view of heaven, as if secretly they all expected Valhalla and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Sadly, we never do get to see Jesus’s rainbow pony during the strikingly unimaginative and hilariously underfunded depictions of the hereafter.