I finally got around to watching the movie Fireproof, the Christian-themed movie with Kirk Cameron as a fire chief who is having marital problems that get solved by accepting Jesus. I’ll admit I was biased going in, not just because I knew it was a Christian-themed movie, but because I’d heard, from both atheists and Christians, that it was horrible. The most common criticism I’ve heard is that Kirk Cameron is just a terrible actor.
As it turns out, I didn’t dislike it nearly as much as I’d expected, and there were some parts that I actually enjoyed, so it wasn’t a total loss. Yes, Cameron’s acting was bad at times, but not in comparison to some of the other actors’ performances, and there were some funny moments and some touching moments that were handled nicely.
Here’s the quick summary of the plot. Caleb (Kirk Cameron) and his wife Erin (Catherine Holt) are having serious marital problems and a divorce is imminent. Caleb complains about Erin to his father, John (Harris Malcom), who had gone through similar problems that were solved by a 40-day “love dare.” He suggests that Caleb try it. Caleb gives his word to go through the entire 40 days, so his father gives him the “love dare” book which gives a new behavior to do each day… refrain from saying anything negative, do something nice, buy her something nice, etc. Each day builds upon the last. Around day 20, Caleb is ready to give up because it’s not working, but his father visits and inspires a religious conversion. The rest of the days play out with Caleb willingly working the 40-day plan. It ends happily and they renew their wedding vows.
Why does the movie fall short of what it could have been? My opinion is that it had the makings of a good Lifetime Channel type of movie, but fell apart because of the writing, the acting, and the incongruent messages.
The acting was admittedly sub-par, but throughout the movie, it was hard to tell whether it was the fault of the actors or of the writers. Some of the dialogue was painfully stilted and I kept thinking to myself that nobody talks like that. There are some scenes, however, that are perfectly believable… even touching… so I have to think that the actors had some talent, but were handicapped by the poor writing.
There are very few movies that I specifically notice the directing, and when I do, it’s invariably a bad thing. The first The Incredible Hulk (with Eric Bana) is a good example because the comic-book style scenes were jarring (and I disliked them immensely). I noticed the directing in Fireproof, too. At times, it seemed clumsy (“Why are they focusing on that?”) and at times, there were scenes included that added nothing to the movie (the brief interchange with the atheist). It wasn’t consistent throughout the movie, but, like The Incredible Hulk, it was jarring when it happened… and it happened enough to be annoying.
Some scenes, however, were fairly well done. There was a rescue scene where two girls were trapped in a car on a train track and a train was coming. The firemen were trying to move the car off the tracks and all the spectators joined in, getting it moved just in time… so “just in time” that one of the firefighters was close enough to the train to have his fire hat knocked off. That’s close… and the entire scene was both tense and touching. Cameron was believable barking orders and the camera work was well done.
Another rescue scene came later when Caleb was trying to get a little girl out of a burning house and hacked through the wooden floor with an ax, escaping just before the roof collapsed and something exploded. The tension was well handled and it was all believable during Cameron’s scenes. Outside the burning house, the seemingly random, Keystone-Cops-like chaos was another matter, but it wasn’t the focus of the scene, so it wasn’t a big distraction, though I did find myself briefly wondering why they weren’t more effective at helping Caleb.
Other scenes were well-done, too, and weren’t ruined by bad direction, acting, or writing. They were refreshing.
The Christian message seemed muddled and secondary… and somewhat ham-handed. Caleb tells his father, John, that he doesn’t want to hear about Jesus and his father doesn’t push it at first. The 40-day “love dare” book John sends him seems quite secular until we find out there’s a bible verse at the end of each day. However, other than the “Pray for your wife” day (which Caleb admits he skipped), all the actions seemed secular (make dinner, do something nice, say something nice, etc). It was unclear why religion was a necessary part.
Then came the day-20 visit by John where Caleb’s upcoming conversion is overtly set up by his complaining about Erin and angrily asking how he could possibly love someone who rejects him again and again. As he’s talking, his father is slowly walking around a small campsite and ends leaning against a cross. Caleb sees his father standing by the cross, and after his father delivers a bit of poorly written, clumsy dialogue right out of Cameron’s Way of the Master evangelizing program, gets it. He accepts Jesus, admitting that he needs Jesus’ forgiveness and that he will trust Jesus with his life.
After his conversion, Caleb becomes willing and eager to do all the rest of the “love dare” program, regardless of how Erin reacts. I assumed that the implication is that his change of heart came from his acceptance of Jesus. However, aside from a few insignificant scenes where Caleb shares his newly found inspiration, the movie continues with actions that could just as well be secular in nature. It’s almost as if the writers took a good love story and jammed in some Christian evangelizing so it would be a “Christian” movie.
There’s so much more I could say about this movie. There were some really funny parts (when Caleb makes coffee for Erin, the hospital girls, the oh-so-lame flowers) and some parts that were really painful to watch (interactions between Caleb and his father, the goosebump-inducing creepiness of the young doctor, the insulting stereotyping of women), but overall, it seemed like it was a promising, inspirational love story that was irrevocably marred by poor writing and a clumsy insertion of an incongruent Christian message.
But the fire trucks were cool.