Sony // 2008 // 118 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // January 27th, 2009
Never leave your partner behind.
Kirk Cameron (Left Behind) brings half a loaf of feel-goodery to this Christ-centric marriage drama that enjoyed a surprising dose of theatrical success last year.
Caleb Holt (Cameron) is a bad-ass firefighter who's made a name for himself as a bona-fide kid-rescuing hero in the Albany Fire Department. But as studly as he may be sliding down a shiny pole, Caleb's home life finds him disgruntled, temperamental and miserable. His marriage is in a tailspin and his wife (Erin Bethea) has decided to end things. Caleb is more than happy to oblige and is steps away from dissolving the relationship -- until his father steps in. He implores Caleb to put off the divorce for 40 days and try something called "The Love Dare," a day-by-day, Godly guide towards rejuvenating a broken marriage. He's reluctant, but gives it a shot and at first nothing happens. Until Caleb discovers the key to pumping life back into his flaccid nuptials: shedding his old life and rededicating his existence to God. Will he be able to salvage his marriage? Even with the help of the Almighty and a helpful devotional that is now available for purchase for a very low price? Maybe. Just maybe.
Okay, all cards on the table. As you may or may not know, I consider myself of the evangelical variety, so the theology and God-speak that is hewn into the fabric of Fireproof is familiar and appreciated. In that respect, as a ministry tool or even an evangelical mechanism, the film is a success. The target demographic will lap up the vivid breakdown of Christian salvation and how it relates to marriage and maybe non-Christians who are at least leaning towards leaving room for the Holy Spirit may find themselves nudged over the goal line with Sherwood Church's latest (they also put together Facing the Giants). If you land in any of those categories there is satisfaction to be had in Fireproof.
But putting the "Judge's" wig, I have to confess the film -- taken as a film -- isn't that great. While it's grossly unfair to condemn a movie simply because of its religious persuasion, the reverse is also true: if the film is lacking, don't mutilate credibility just because the message coincides with one's dogmatic inclination. I can appreciate the message in Fireproof and, yes, I think the lifestyle and belief system it prescribes is the way to go, but that doesn't mean the acting isn't brutal or the humor isn't cringe worthy or the whole thing isn't 30 minutes too long.
All of that is true.
Save for Kirk Cameron, the performances are all entry-level. I'm sure much of this has to do with director Alex Kendrick's limited directorial experience (which he admits to in the making-of documentary), but there's no escaping the flatness of the characters. When you're dealing with a character-driven piece, that's a mortal wound. Cameron isn't too bad, charismatic and sentimental, easily out-pacing his Left Behind stuff, but in the critical role as his marital partner-in-dysfunction, Erin Bethea falters. It's not like the wedlock melodrama is shocking, either. Basically, they argue a lot about washing the dishes, Caleb enjoys checking out porn on what looks to be a circa 1993 Dell tower (not sure how much digital sin you can store on 3.5-inch floppy) and there's a sleazy doctor sniffing around Mrs. Holt, leading me to think that "The Love Dare" may be better suited towards reviving a tedious marriage than a relationship that has been devastated by infidelity or worse. In an effort to break up the drama with laughs, the writers use some playful shenanigans by Caleb's firefighting crew and a recurring gag with the neighbor. These jokes might be good for a few church chuckles, but struck me as big-time corny.
Finally, the whole enterprise could have benefited from losing some pounds -- then again, the methodical pacing made me understand what being trapped in a stultifying marriage was like.
The DVD is a winner, though. Picture quality is solid, transmitted in a crisp 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix doesn't have much to do, but it's clean. Extras: filmmakers' commentary, a robust behind-the-scenes documentary, disposable deleted scenes, a gag reel, featurettes on the cast, The Love Dare and "Marriage Matters," and a collection of marriage resources.
I know it sounds like I've dumped all over Fireproof, but it's just because I want to see better from the Christian arts. The film isn't horrible; it has some inspiring and genuinely moving moments (granted, some of that might have to do with my affinity for the beliefs it espouses). I'm happy it made some money at the box office and the message is sound, but the execution is mediocre. I'd be lodging the same complaints if the protagonists were practicing Thuggees. Simply put, there are finer examples of faith-filled filmmaking, be they explicitly Christian (Saving God) or more of the "undertones" ilk (the Narnia films).
Their heart is in the right place, but the folks behind Fireproof just haven't put together that great a piece of filmmaking. The DVD's nice.
Why don't you take a few more slides down the pole, huh, and get back to me.
Review content copyright © 2009 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Gag Reel