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The greatest piece of literature inspired by Christianity is obviously The Bible. Whether you're a believer or not, the Good Book has some compelling stories. Since then, though, many of the narratives inspired by the teaching of Jesus have fallen flat. Yes, Christians have written some compelling books and movies, but when Christianity drives the plot, the results are often less than spectacular. Online is a perfect case in point. It's too bland to entertain nonbelievers, and its messages about Jesus might leave the faithful scratching their heads as well.
John (Morgan Ayers) has just been promoted to a new job, which has meant sacrificing time with his wife Mary (Kelsey Sanders, The Genesis Code). Returning home one day to a sleeping Mary, John logs into a social networking site where he says hello to an old flame. This leads him down a path of temptation that could cost him everything.
When debating about religion, Christopher Hitchens liked to quote the phrase, "Christianity makes us sick and commands us to be well." His point was that according to Christian doctrine, we're irrevocably flawed as human beings, and yet Christian doctrine also commands us to be good, if not perfect. Online reminds me of this quote, not because of its explicitly Christian ethos, but because Online is a silly movie for believers and nonbelievers alike. It's a silly movie because it treats its characters just like Hitchens claimed Christianity treats its believers: we watch a flawed man struggle, lose everything, and only then turn to Christ when he wants to be well.
The problem is that Christ was there all along. To the faithful, this is a comforting thought; to the viewer of Online, it's merely tedious. We watch as John slowly loses everything important in his life because of the temptations of a woman (and it's not like their relationship is scandalous; inappropriate, yes, but hardly the stuff of most movie plots). All the while we know—from the very opening scene!—that John's problems will all be solved by Jesus. Except they're not. We watch John struggle with temptation, sort of give in, and then rapidly spiral downward. He accepts Jesus Christ into his heart, has a summit with a faithful colleague, and then the credits roll over photos of how he got his wife back.
Let me be explicit: I'm not Christian. With that said, Online will only appeal to a very narrow set of the faithful. It's a morality play: John does bad, John is punished, John accepts Christ, John gets better. I remember these things from years of Catholic school. Except, there's absolutely no need for this to be 94 minutes long—a 15-minute short would have done it. The length is especially galling because we know what's going to happen; any Christian watching has to know that John is going against Christ's teaching, and he will therefore have to be punished for it. These aren't characters, they're traits on two legs acting out a predetermined script of damnation and salvation.
That might be fine. Everyone likes a little comfort now and again, and perhaps some Christian viewers will enjoy seeing their beliefs given 94 minutes of treatment on the screen. However, Online is even problematic in this regard, as the film basically has John find Jesus so he can get his wife back. Most denominations I'm familiar with would find such a schematic approach to faith inappropriate. John even asks, "What's the point of finding Christ if I lose my marriage?" His companion foists him off with a comment about how he was never really married because he and his wife weren't "centered on Christ." Fair enough, but the film ultimately teaches that one can screw around, find Jesus, and get everything back with no real consequences. The credit sequence indicates that John gets back together with his wife, and since they're obviously still in their house, his employment problems didn't last long, either. So according to Online, Jesus is basically a free pass.
Technically, the film is all right. The acting is a bit wooden because these aren't characters but walking slogans. It looks pretty good, too. The flashbacks have a nice glow to them, and the scenes are edited with a modicum of skill and minimum of style. It's like watching an extended insurance commercial.
The DVD isn't too bad, either. The 1.78:1 image is clean and bright, with no serious compression artefacts or other problems. Colors are decently saturated and skin tones appear accurate. Black levels are deep enough and consist. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track keeps dialogue clean and clear in the front, with the film's score sounding rich and detailed as well. There are no extras on the disc.
I can really only see this movie appealing to those who think today's television and movies are too smutty (since just about everything is smutty compared to Online), but only if they're absolutely desperate for something to watch rather than just willing to forsake film entirely.
There's great art out there that promotes family values and even Christianity; no one has to settle for a bland, boring, predictable film like Online. Even believers will balk at the film's message that Christ is a get-out-of-jail-free card rather than a path to salvation.
More generic than its title. Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: RLJ Entertainment
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