God's Not Dead 2

Posted by Joel Copling on March 31, 2016

It is, perhaps, no surprise that "God's Not Dead 2" rests upon fallacious notions of what constitutes religious persecution. This is, after all, the follow-up to a movie that surmised an atheist professor would be so antagonistic toward a Christian student that he would risk his own job to debate that student in a public forum, violating ethical regulations in the process. Here is a sequel, penned by returning screenwriters Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon, that bypasses even a rudimentary examination of the first six verses of the 13th chapter of the Book of Romans in any version of the Bible (For the uninitiated, those are the ones wherein it is laid out that believers must follow human authority, as the establishment of it is divine) for a story that gets neither side of its central argument right.

In one corner, we have the "right side," on which its target audience will automatically gather. The Christian student from before has here been replaced by Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart, a long way from the television role that made her semi-famous for a few years), a high-school teacher with a loaded name and a devout spirit. She takes care of her grandfather (Pat Boone) and has a passion for the subject she teaches, history. A student named Brooke (Hayley Orrantia), who has recently been dealing with the death of her brother while her parents (Carey Scott and Maria Canals-Barrera) are in denial, asks Grace a question regarding the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. (whom the high school is named after) as it compared to those of Jesus Christ.

Here's where the first problem comes in: It's a completely fair and innocent question in the context of one historical figure being compared to another one, yet the school board goes into butt-saving mode, calls in the ACLU (or the "wrong side"), and throws Grace under the figurative bus. She gains counsel with a public defender named Tom Endler (Jesse Metcalfe) and goes up against the righteously antitheistic Pete Kane (Ray Wise), who argues that the sanctity of the church-and-state separation should be upheld no matter what. Here's where the other problem comes in: Kane is caricaturized to such a cartoonish degree that even the mention of the word "Christian" uttered from his lips is enough to make him squeamish.

Neither side wins here because the "good" side's issue doesn't seem like a legitimate form of persecution and the defense established (that somehow a minor interruption of privilege is a complete violation of the First Amendment) is as weak as the "bad" side's prosecution (Kane doesn't even cross-examine popular scholar and former atheist Lee Strobel when he appears in a cameo to sell a book he wrote) because the screenplay demands that he do so. Director Harold Cronk's listless staging (The courtroom drama can't even match the debate scenes in the first film, which at least had some fire to them) only matches his desire to bring in characters from the first film (David A.R. White and Benjamin A. Onyango as a pair of reverends, Paul Kwo and Trisha LaFache as a pair of formerly doubting believers, and the members of Christian contemporary group Newsboys to sing the song in the title again). "God's Not Dead 2" is more of the same, only worse.

Film Information

Melissa Joan Hart (Grace Wesley), Jesse Metcalfe (Tom Endler), Ray Wise (Pete Kane), Hayley Orrantia (Brooke Thawley), Carey Scott (Richard Thawley), Maria Canals-Barrera (Catherine Thawley), Ernie Hudson (Judge Stennis), Robin Givens (Principal Kinney), Pat Boone (Walter Wesley), David A.R. White (Rev. Dave), Trisha LaFache (Amy Ryan), Paul Kwo (Martin Yip), Benjamin A. Onyango (Rev. Jude).

Directed by Harold Cronk and written by Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon.

Rated PG (thematic elements).

121 minutes.

Released on April 1, 2016.