Teched by an an­gel

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

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.

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