Heaven is for Real is really dumb

Last week, I went to see Heaven is for Real, which was then the #2 movie in America, and one of about three Jesus movies playing at my local theater. I picked this one to review because it was the only one based on a bestselling book. (I’ve heard that Son of God is based on a book, but that doesn’t count because I don’t know anyone who’s actually read it.)

I already knew that I was going to write a review tearing this movie a new one, but sweet Voltron, I had no idea how much it was going to deserve it.

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You’ve probably already gleaned the basics of this story, even if you only know it as the book that replaced the Left Behind series as that thing they sell in gas stations that disinterested truckers flip through before deciding not to buy it. Written by Todd Burpo and the woman who co-authored Sarah Palin’s bullshit-a-palooza Going Rogue, it details the mysterious circumstances regarding Burpo’s then four-year-old son Colton, who nearly died during surgery and awoke claiming to have visited Heaven, where he spoke to Jesus. Todd, a minister, parlayed this into a small media empire, the end result of which is this movie.

Heaven is for Real is really dumb

A four-year-old feeling the touch of God, allowing his parents to become successful evangelists? Gee, I wonder where I’ve heard that before…

Heaven is for Real is really dumb

Yeah, you don’t hear the Christian Right talking about that guy very much anymore, do you?

For those of you who don’t know, Marjoe Gortner was a four-year-old preacher’s son with a photographic memory who was ordained as a minister and traveled America spreading the word until people just got sick of the novelty. As an adult, Gortner revealed that he was actually a lifelong atheist, and teamed with a pair of documentarians to create the landmark, Oscar-winning exposé Marjoe. (In retrospect, this may have had more to do with Gortner trying to kick-start his failed movie career, but can you blame the guy?)

So you can forgive me if I don’t exactly believe Heaven is for Real is anything other than a… whatchamacallit… hoax. But it’s not just me; even the movie seems to think these people are full of shit. The entire first third of the film, where not a whole hell of a lot happens aside from setting up that Todd Burpo (played by Greg Kinnear) is Jimmy Stewart reincarnated (except he gets laid on the regular), shows us all sorts of details that while having no real impact on the story, all end up being elements of Colton’s vision. You know, like it was all just an elaborate dream, or something.

Heaven is for Real is really dumb

Nothing about this film makes sense dramatically. It moves the action to present day, instead of about ten years ago, but there doesn’t seem to have been a reason to do so, aside from getting to do captions that say PRESENT DAY. Despite the fact that there are no flashbacks of any kind.

Todd is supposed to be going through some kind of crisis of faith. I think. He certainly says he’s going through one, but there’s nothing about his actions that suggest this. Colton comes back from the other side spouting the exact same Christian platitudes that Todd already believes, but this freaks him out for reasons that the film doesn’t bother to explain. Nor does it ever explain just why everyone has a problem with this thing that in no way changes what they already view as fact.

Heaven is for Real is really dumb

There’s a scene where Todd goes to speak to a psychologist for the express purpose of finding a non-Biblical reason for Colton’s vision, but gets snippy with her when she gives him one. I almost thought they were setting her up as a badly-needed antagonist, but if there’s one quality that entertainment for Christians shares with video games made for pre-teen girls, it’s the idea that conflict is a dirty word.

Even the cinematography seems designed to point out that this story is full of holes. It’s all pretty and would look great in a demo reel, but every shot seems to have been deliberately set up to carry no dramatic weight of any kind. I was actually surprised to find out this was directed by Randall Wallace, the same guy who did We Were Soldiers.

And yes, the film does address the elephant in the room: Doesn’t it seem a little convenient that Colton had his little trip to fairyland just when the family was having serious money problems? The film addresses this, but doesn’t come up with any kind of resolution. (Though, if someone in the family ever breaks down and admits this was all crap, we’ll have great fodder for a sequel!)

The one saving grace of this film is the actors. I know a lot of people are focusing on Greg Kinnear in this, because it’s so fucking weird that Greg Kinnear is in this, but my focus was more on Thomas Haden Church. I loved him on Wings, and of course he was nominated for an Oscar for Sideways, and while seeing former high-profile actors in stuff like this is normally tragic, I’ve managed to make a game out of guessing who’s in the film because they actually believe whatever the message is, and who’s here because they need the money. When it comes to Church, I’m guessing money, because he clearly does not give a shit, and thus becomes the funniest damn thing in the film.

Heaven is for Real is really dumb

The main flaw in the cast is the actor who plays Colton. I don’t want to be too mean towards someone who’s about a quarter of my age, but let’s just say I finally see why people hated Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker.

Heaven is for Real is really dumb

Other than that, the film is light on drama, light on plot, and heavy on filler. During all the downtime, I invented the Heaven is for Real Drinking Game: take a shot every time there’s a scene where Greg Kinnear puts the kids to bed. Sure, a funnier game might have been taking a shot every time we see a plug for Spider-Man or someone using a Sony Vaio, but I’m trying to get you drunk, not kill you.

Still, if you’re one of those people who think Jesus really did appear on that woman’s grilled cheese sandwich, you’ll probably enjoy this movie. It’s already made about four times its budget back in theaters, so there will probably be a lot more of these coming our way!

And yet, Muppets Most Wanted hasn’t even broken even in America yet. The fuck is wrong with you people?

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  • TheRedWorm

    “The fuck is wrong with you people?” The same thing that’s wrong with the people who have almost no money, but still put some in the collection plates…

    • MichaelANovelli

      I guess the lesson here is that you should never equate spirituality with spending money…

      • TheRedWorm

        heh. A lesson religious leaders everywhere would rather people not learn.

    • John Wilson

      Well it does go to charity(most of the time).

      • MichaelANovelli

        I would rather it had gone to charity than to this film, but that’s just me. ^_^

      • TheRedWorm

        Maybe, but what kind of charity? MSF I’ve got no problem with, the salvation army, well…

    • mamba

      The money goes to charity. The problem is the same as police though.

      Churches see themselves AS charity, therefore it only makes sense to keep the money for themselves. Just like the police see themselves as “the community” therefore it only makes sense to keep the proceeds of crime that gets returned to “the community”, right?

      If you want to give to charity, then do it, but the church does NOT represent charity anymore, if it ever did!

      • FullofQuestions1

        I think yes and no. Sure, you’re not wrong in all cases, but a church near where I live provides food for low income people that has more monetary value than a month’s supply of food stamps.

  • John Wilson

    Well at least the “Left behind” and “The omega code” movies had elements of crazy. Most of the new Christan movies uses little from the Bible.. Many amines are much closer to Christianity then a lot of Christan movies ( ironically enough). If this movie was accuracy, Heaven would be filled with anime girls (because ancient aliens).. “This is the end” is closer to a accurate heaven then this movie. I know this because I’m in vanilla hentai heaven right now,using “Valis” to communicate to earth.

    The new “Left behind” movie looks good. Spoilers:Cage was God all along:)

    • MichaelANovelli

      I’ve had Left Behind on DVD for months. I really should watch it, one of these days…

    • Immortan Scott

      Yeah, C ME DANCE and FIREPROOF are other hilarious Christian propaganda. This film here just looks so boring.

      • MichaelANovelli

        Ugh, Fireproof. My ex-wife was OBSESSED with that film…

        • John Wilson

          The pornz are wrong and teh Internet is wrong too. All you need is da love dare to fix your marriage.

          Good thing my Waifu do hentai:)

          • MichaelANovelli

            Well done, sir! I’ve always said you should never marry someone if they don’t have the same kinks you do. ^_^

        • KLLRFRST

          That movie was so lame. Kirk Cameron has such a stick up his ass, he didn’t even kiss the actress playing his wife. He had his wife put on a wig and used camera tricks to make it less obvious that it wasn’t the actress that he was kissing.

          • John Wilson

            But kissing is a sacred marriage thing. Kissing is like having a 3 way. There no way a kiss can ever be used as a greeting.

          • MichaelANovelli

            Someone needs to show him that smile, again, so he won’t waste another minute on his crying…

      • Wizkamridr

        Superman the movie was the best christian propaganda I’ve seen in years.

  • Solkir

    Confirmation Bias: The movie. Telling christians everything they want to hear about how perfect and wonderful they are.

    • MichaelANovelli

      Doesn’t even do THAT especially well…

    • Wizkamridr

      Not all of us bible thumpers are a-holes. And yes, I couldn’t care less about this movie.

    • Dar

      Replace “christian” with “liberal” and you’d describe a ton of movies and tv shows.

      See? It pays to think before mouthing off in a false sense of superiority.

  • KLLRFRST

    How is it when a 4 year says he saw monsters in his closet, people chalk it up to overactive imagination, but when a 4 year old claims he saw Jesus while hopped up on anesthesia, people are taking it as irrefutable proof of God and Heaven? *facepalm*

    • MichaelANovelli

      I can’t imagine, especially since most adults who claim to have seen Jesus don’t get taken all that seriously…

      • Magdalen

        There’s something about the “purity of children” that a lot of adults go in for. Nevermind that at 4 years old is about the time kids will start lying for attention. People will find meaning in anything to reaffirm beliefs they want to have or be associated with having.

        • MichaelANovelli

          Hell, when I was four, I thought the robots at Chuck E. Cheese were alive, so I’d think if I said something like this, it’d get taken with a grain of salt…

        • KLLRFRST

          I don’t get the feeling that the kid is purposely lying for attention. My theory is that the kid had whacked out visions while under anesthesia that were subconsciously influenced by growing up in a Christian household, and his father started coaching the kid in order to cash in.

          $10 says that in 10 years or so, that kid is going to write a hell of a tell-all book.

          • Magdalen

            I’m not saying necessarily that this kid made it all up. Just in general people like to take the meaningless things kids say and twist them to fit their agenda. Happens all the time in Parenting Land.

      • Wizkamridr

        I think i saw him at comic con.

        • MichaelANovelli

          Well, at least he knows how to have a good time! ^_^

        • KLLRFRST

          I see him all the time when he comes to mow my lawn.

    • mamba

      I wondered why whenever someone of another culture dies and sees THEIR culture’s god and imagery and what have you, the christians never accept THAT as proof they are wrong, yet they expect US to accept the same proof they they are right? In North America, we almost NEVER hear about the other OBE’s, and they are just as plentiful!

      Here’s a link to a few: http://infidels.org/library/modern/keith_augustine/HNDEs.html#differences

      Every one of those (african, hindu, etc…) saw exactly what THEIR diety expectes to see, and even a little boy saw Santa Claus guiding him…yet christians don’t call that proof of Hindu death gods, or Santa Claus. Yet I’ve had christians screaming at me personally that “they know it’s true because they have SEEN it after their heart attack!” and what have you. Proofs like the other culture’s “seeing it” are clearly just delusions, but THEIRS was 100% evidence!

      A curious hypocrisy, ain’t it? (smile)

  • Magdalen

    This and the God’s Not Dead movie both look like rushed out reactions to Cosmos. It’s kind of… sad. They can’t make me angry because neither do anything except make asses out of themselves. I suspect the reason they’re making so much money is because a lot of Christians feel compelled to go out and support the movie even if they don’t care. Solidarity and all that.

    • MichaelANovelli

      I guess I’ll just never understand America… 🙁

    • Muthsarah

      I don’t have my finger on the pulse of modern Christianity (anymore), but is Cosmos REALLY such a bugbear for them? Growing up, astronomers, biologists, and anyone else who speculated on metaphysics or morality or anything the church(es) like to think is their monopoly, tended to be given the same level of respect as palm-readers, or fortune cookies.

      • Magdalen

        It’s just reactionary because it’s been promoted so much. Like Seth MacFarlane and company are trying to destroy Christian values by making science cool for the kiddies.

        • KLLRFRST

          Since MacFarlane is such an outspoken atheist and liberal, part of the uproar is probably because they think Cosmos is a secret plot to turn their children into socialist homosexual atheist muslims like Obama.

  • Mike

    This weekend I saw the 1st and 5th Star Trek movies for the first time. While I knew they are best common contenders for weakest film in the franchise, I found them both to be fairly enjoyable and (I suspect) better dramatic speculations on the existence of God that this movie. Just call it hunch.

    • Muthsarah

      Seen Nemesis yet?

      • Mike

        I have to finish up the original series adaptions first.

    • Often, whenever I’m preached at about divine motivations, I involuntarily think “What does god need with a starship?”

      • MichaelANovelli

        Because he built this city on rock ‘n’ roll?

        • KLLRFRST

          Sarek…Sarek…storms are brewing in your eyes…

      • John Wilson

        Because starship.

      • fearfanforever

        Please note that 5 ends with Spock shooting ‘God’ in the face.
        Silly way to end a movie, or scathing commentary on the ‘science vs. religion’ debate?
        YOU BE THE JUDGE!

        • KLLRFRST

          A lot of the episodes of the original ST series were about encountering god-like people or creatures that ended up being fakes or cons, so the 5th movie was just a continuation of that theme. Roddenberry basically developed ST as a Humanist screed.

  • I wonder when the Quiverfull movement will launch their movie spouting the virtues of breeding for Jesus?

    • MichaelANovelli

      Do they even allow movies?

      • Possibly not, which means that we might be spared from another craptacular Christian movie.

        • MichaelANovelli

          Yeah, but whatever sect makes those Bibleman videos fills in the gaps by volume.

          • Jarky

            Well, we’re in luck as those haven’t seen any new installments in about five years, looks like. I think support’s finally dried up for the Evangelical Avenger.

          • MichaelANovelli

            Well, that’s a step in the right direction, at least…

  • Joel Kazoo

    You should check out Brad Jones’ midnight screening vid for this flick, it’s a hoot!

    http://blip.tv/the-cinema-snob/midnight-screenings-heaven-is-for-real-6857832

    Also, love your avatar, Mendo!

    • MichaelANovelli

      Ah, Brad Jones. He’s good people. Short, though. ^_^

      I figured the avatar fit. After all, I’ve got long sideburns and my hair slicked back!

    • Muthsarah

      Mr. Brad and Mr. Mendo know each other enough. At least I think they do. They even did a crossover, Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood.

  • I think everyone here needs to watch Matthew McConaughey’s monologue about religion from “True Detective”. He is a crazy person on that show, but hyper rational.

  • Gallen Dugall

    Religious movies almost always make back their money, not always in the theaters. I’ve been tempted to write religious themed fiction because that always sells too, and I know lots of that from the searching days of my youth. That, by the way is where I found my essential problem with organized religion, that most of it is people selling stuff and they clearly have not a shred of faith themselves whenever they think no one is looking. Done right a film centered on a message of faith based love can be uplifting however most of the time they’re just dull, however every once in a while they’re entertainingly bizarre like Plan 9 From Outer Space or The Space Children.

    http://www.club-mst3k.com/906-the-space-children

    I wouldn’t blame this film for the current surge of popularity in milking this particular cash cow, it kind of goes through cycles, although this could be a big one depending on how popular the upcoming series and films on the rapture do, and they are advertising the crap out of those things so someone has faith in their marketability. I must say that I prefer the boring Heaven is for Realz kind of cash-in than the end-of-the-world scare people stuff which was all added relatively recently to the Bible for the express purpose of serving as a stick to the carrot message of love and tolerance and as such always struck me as cruelly pragmatic.

    • MichaelANovelli

      I guess movies about Islam would have more action scenes, at least. When you get right down to it, post-schism, Christianity became kind of a boring religion. Now, if you made movies about some of the martyrs, then you’d have something…

      • Gallen Dugall

        the action in movies about Islam tend to be the people involved in the movie being murdered. Christianity was a boring religion until it was re-organized as a state religion in Rome and they added a bunch of crap to make it more palatable to the rich and powerful – the simple message at its core gradually getting drowned out over the centuries. What I’d really love to see is a Bonhoeffer style critique on shallow Christianity because whenever I hear people moan about the decline of Christianity I think – maybe if more Christians actually behaved as they are supposed to, like decent human beings, then people might take the religion more seriously.

        • MichaelANovelli

          What we need are more movies like Going My Way. If for no other reason than we REALLY need to find a proper successor to Bing Crosby.

          I guess I would settle for one that was as good as Martin Luther or Joan Of Arc, though…

        • weathergirl

          Well, most Muslims act exactly as their holy book commands them to. So you might be sitting on a gold mine there. Exactly HOW are Christians supposed to behave? Holier than thou? You obviously know nothing about the Christian faith or haven’t met an actual Christian. The entire premise is that we fall short of glory and sin daily, but we are to turn from sin. We are supposed to be self-improving, and grateful for our blessings. Perhaps people wouldn’t be such pitiful, whiny liberals if they understood that.

          • MichaelANovelli

            Liberalism stems from economic theory, not religious. 🙂

          • Jonathan Campbell

            I think you’ll find that Liberalism does not have mono-casual origins and like all ideologies stems from a complex weaving of social, political, cultural AND economic AND religious factors and to say that one or the other had some kind of pre-eminence in its formation is to present a disingenuous argument if not an outright ignorant one.

            And don’t smile at the end of your sentences when you are discussing intellectual history.

          • MichaelANovelli

            American liberalism tends to differ from conservatism mainly in economic terms, with differing social and theocratic ideologies equally represented on both sides. As a business major, it was important for me to learn such things.

            Also, intellectual discussions make me happy! ^_^

          • Jonathan Campbell

            Yes, but I don’t think this was an economic discussion, and whilst the MAIN differences between American Liberalism and American Conservatism (which are really just Social Liberalism and Neo-Classical Liberalism, respectively; and strictly speaking, conservatism is not truly an ideology but more of a supra-ideology, by which I mean that every ideology has its conservatives) are economic, it would be remiss to dismiss the other factors.

            Also, you didn’t specify American liberalism, but Liberalism itself, and Liberalism itself definitely owes something to religion as it is partially rooted in the struggle for freedom of religion against state religion.

            And intellectual discussions might make you happy, but putting a smile at the end of your intellectual arguments shows poor manners.

            (insert smart remark to end on here).

  • MichaelANovelli

    So, just curious, has anyone here but me actually seen this film? Obviously, I would prefer if you hadn’t, but I’m just asking. ^_^

  • I have no interest in this movie and am actually kind of surprised it made as much money as it did. But I wouldn’t touch this with a 1,000 million foot pole if I were to write reviews. We all know that those that believe will take this as a documentary and those that do not will see it for a money grab. And there will be no real middle.

    • MichaelANovelli

      I wish I could have avoided it, too, but, as an internet video critic, I must constantly be on the prowl. Not just for movies to review, mind you, but for batshit insanity that might someday be fodder for a joke. This is the life we have chosen…

  • Dar

    Wow! Attacking a religious movie, you’re such a wild rebel, dude!

    “And yet, Muppets Most Wanted hasn’t even broken even in America yet. The fuck is wrong with you people?”

    Yeah, how dare people not share your taste in movies!? Bastards!

    • FullofQuestions1

      He wasn’t attacking it because it was religious, he was attacking it because it sucks. There are way better religious movies, such as The Ten Commandments or The Nativity Story. I didn’t actually watch this one all the way through, but from the clips I’ve seen, it just looks lazy.

      • MichaelANovelli

        Don’t forget Prince Of Egypt!

        • Jennifer Schillig

          Which IMO has it all over The Ten Commandments–telling a tighter, more dramatic story in half the time. (Great songs too.) I’ll gladly see the upcoming Exodus movie, but it’ll have a long way to go to beat PoE.

          • MichaelANovelli

            Well, Prince of Egypt is hard to beat in two categories: it finds a new spin on the story by focusing on the familial aspect, and Moses’s wife was really hot!

          • Jennifer Schillig

            And, as I said, awesome songs. One of which was sung by Brian Stokes Mitchell, baritone god.

    • MichaelANovelli

      Why shouldn’t I want Muppets Most Wanted to do well? It’s a well-made, innovative film that manages to be heartfelt and sincere without pandering to its audience. Besides, there’s a religious film out, right now, that works as a film while still challenging viewers to look at things in a new way. Its called Noah, and it is epic! ^_^

    • tMoD

      Hm, yes how dare a film reviewer give his OPINION of a movie he saw??!! Bastard! Doesn’t he know some people won’t agree? Why won’t he think of the people who don’t agree with his opinion?

  • Endorenna

    Ugh… As a Christian, let me say that not all Christians enjoy crappy “Christian” movies. I’m rather skeptical about the whole experience anyways, and most “after-death” experiences. I don’t think they have a terribly sound theological basis, and being close to death, I assume that the nervous system would be doing crazy things to a person. Perhaps the person claiming to have had an after-death experience believes their own story, but I would be more inclined to think that their experience is a result of his or her nervous system being screwy because…near death.

    I saw part of Son of God. It sucked. I saw the trailer for this movie and just cringed. I’m not going to go see it and give them my money for making a crappy movie. Just…ugh.

    I’m gonna go watch a movie with lots of killing now that I’m really annoyed. *sigh*

    • MichaelANovelli

      A movie with lots of killing? Now, THERE’S an idea I can get behind!

  • Immortan Scott

    My mom wanted to see this and, since I wasn’t able to do anything for her for mother’s day due to final’s week, I took her to see it. We both disliked it. She said that if she wasn’t already a believer, she wouldn’t have been convinced by it.

    • MichaelANovelli

      Oh, man, that sucks. I hope she didn’t hold it against you…

      • Immortan Scott

        Don’t worry, she doesn’t hold that against me.

        • MichaelANovelli

          Well, the story has a happy ending! ^_^

  • T. Morrissey

    Haven’t see this, but I can’t imagine it’s better than God’s Not Dead. That is a hilariously bad shitshow of near-biblical proportions.

    • MichaelANovelli

      It’s better by far, because at least with HIFR I don’t spend the entire run-time wanting to punch whoever’s on-screen…