God’s Not Dead had an interesting concept, but a boring execution. It made me feel bad for the teenage extras who had to sit through pages of long-winded dialogue as a devout student went toe-to-toe with his atheist professor.
God’s Not Dead 2 is cut from similar cloth and slightly flips the script. Devout teacher Grace Wesley (played by Melissa Joan Hart) is challenged after she references biblical material when answering a student’s innocent question. She is then ganged-up on by the school’s administration and hounding media outlets, leading up to a critical court case where Grace is pressured to apologize for her actions. Non-believers continue to make a mountain out of a mole hill as Grace stands her ground with her ambitious lawyer Tom (played by Jesse Metcalfe).
As we’ve seen before, returning director Harold Cronk takes a compelling premise and issues slack to the story. The sequel also suffers from unfair characterization from returning screenwriters Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon. Mind you, the screenwriters are at least more grounded with their antagonists instead of spitefully writing them off (Kevin Sorbo’s tasteless demise in God’s Not Dead). Then again, when character actor Ray Wise is cast as Grace’s main opponent, we can only suspect that the production was – once again – wanting to represent non-believers as conniving villains.
God’s Not Dead 2, however, is more mature than its predecessor. Beneath its extroverted love of Christianity is a watchable courtroom drama – two witnesses too long though. Both sides have conviction to their arguments (even though Wise may as well be twirling an invisible handlebar moustache), which allows the viewer to get wrapped up in the investigation. Viewers uninterested with the judicial lingo may find themselves in the same boat I was during the first film; feeling pity for the jurors and Ernie Hudson’s Judge Robert Stennis who are forced to endure pages of impassioned monologues.
The connection to God’s Not Dead is very thin. Reverend Dave (the dashing David A.R. White) and his pal Reverend Jude (Benjamin A. Onyango) turn up to have knowledgable discussions about faith before Dave is called for jury duty on Grace’s case. Paul Kwo is squandered as he replays his role of Martin – an enthusiastic learner – and Newsboys appear sporadically to lend support and play the film out. Personally, I was more interested in newcomer Hayley Orrantia who plays Brooke, the punished student. Known for her comedic work on TV’s The Goldbergs, Orrantia shows great potential as a dramatic actress.
The one-sided opinions in God’s Not Dead 2 will be too alienating for some. However, fans of courtroom dramas shouldn’t brush away the faith-based flick so easily.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie