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September 29, 2008 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | September 29, 2008 |

Imagine if some monstrous anthropomorphism of one of those low budget shows on the Christian Broadcasting Network were gene-spliced with a Lifetime Original Movie. The resulting abomination would be something like Fireproof, a ghastly piece of evangelical agit-prop cloaked in a love story about a fireman (Kirk Cameron … oh dear) trying to save his marriage. Given the facts at hand, I was mentally girding myself for a multi-pronged assault on every sensibility I possessed. And really, Fireproof wasn’t as appalling a movie as all that, but neither was it really a movie at all; rather, Fireproof is a pat afterschool special, a sentimental grasp for inspiration with a dull, inevitable arc. Would this film merit any attention at all if not for the divisive fact that it’s larded with pop Christian truisms and perfunctory bits of dogma? No. In fact, it doesn’t merit that attention anyway, save for the disturbing fact that there are people capable of viewing this shit without irony.

Cameron plays firefighter captain Caleb, a dimwitted autochthon in Bumbledick, Georgia, whose marriage is floundering like a dead minnow. Caleb doesn’t really understand why his frigid, equally dim wife Catherine (played by no one cares) doesn’t like it when he whines incessantly and then screams in her face. Both parties seem eager for a divorce. Right off the bat it’s impossible to care about these two blunt caricatures or their relationship because their characterizations run the gamut from dull to pitiably stupid: Caleb is a loud, angry buffoon; Catherine a callow, vapid drone. The wantonly terrible acting doesn’t help. I swear, there’s bad acting, and then there’s Fireproof, wherein the performances by the two principals and ensemble cast are so inept, they provoke genuine pity, like a primary school pageant filled with six-year-olds struggling through their lines. Only instead of six-year-olds, these are adults who fill me with disgust.

Anyway, the couple seems headed for a nice, healthy divorce when Caleb’s dad convinces him to hold off for forty days in a last ditch effort to save his vacuous marriage. Papa gives Caleb a little notebook and invites him to participate in a “love dare,” a series of daily trials meant to re-ingratiate himself with his wife. All forty lessons are various permutations of “stop being an asshole” peppered with a Biblical passage largely devoid of any context. Caleb, to his credit, doesn’t suplex his father into the dirt for suggesting an idea of such epochal lameness, and agrees to do the “love dare” anyway. Caleb then spends half the movie trying to woo Catherine with stupid gestures which don’t work. He then realizes his marriage, nay, his entire life! has been a boring and deeply retarded lie because God hasn’t been involved. So Caleb kowtows to the Almighty and things start going his way. Now he’s no longer an asshole, just boring and really sanctimonious. After several paper-thin catharses and a billion crying sessions, Caleb wins back his dumb wife’s love and respect. Hooray for Jeebus.

And again, seriously, Fireproof wasn’t as cataclysmically terrible as I was expecting. If you can ignore the negligible acting talent, shoestring production values, reification of traditional gender roles and ideologically repulsive nature of the script, the film is perfectly watchable. Perhaps more than the movie itself (a relatively innocuous one, even by propagandist standards), it’s the social culture surrounding it that I find so unsettling. The grim Arkansas hamlet I grew up in could’ve been a stand-in for everything I saw in Fireproof, and sitting in a packed theater with 200 Christards who laughed, cried and clapped like drunken marionettes to every string pulled by this idiotic movie filled me with a nostalgic terror. As an orthodox skeptic, I always found the frenzied fictions of WASP evangelism (including skits [performed by other kids] of demons dragging off otherwise good people into eternal torture for the unforgivable sin of not going through the rote dogmatic motions) vaguely horrifying. And Fireproof is just another turd in this toilet. Only instead of straight-to-video laugh riots, like that crapocalyptic Left Behind series (also starring Cameron), this was a theatrically released box office success. Think I need to lie down for a while…

Phillip Stephens is the lead critic and book editor for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Jesus is My O-Face

Fireproof / Phillip Stephens

Film | September 29, 2008 |

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