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God's Not Dead

Kevin Sorbo, left, and Shane Harper in "God's Not Dead."

Continually, I bemoan the fact that viewers of faith — and I’m among them — are under-served when it comes to high-quality faith-based films.

Every now and then, a welcome “Amazing Grace” or “Black Nativity” will come along and set the bar high for faith-based entertainment. And then something like “God’s Not Dead” hits the big screen. The show involves a lot of product placement for one of the “Duck Dynasty” stars and The Newsboys, the incredibly popular and talented Christian rockers who count among their songs a tune called “God’s Not Dead.” There’s also a tie-in with the recent Rice Broock book, “God’s Not Dead: Evidence for God in an Age of Uncertainty.”

At the core of the story is Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo), who forces students to write “God’s dead” on papers, sign them and turn them in. Freshman Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper, “Flipped”), a devout Christian, is urged by another student to choose a class other than Radisson’s philosophy course. Josh signs up anyway and is surprised that the arrogant professor asks the students to disavow the existence of God on the first day of class.

Josh hesitates. After all, his future is at stake. When he finally refuses, Radisson mocks him and challenges him to prove that God exists, not only through research but ultimately in a debate with Radisson himself. He will flunk the class if he can’t prove that God exists.

The characters connected to Josh and his professor all face various struggles: Radisson’s wife is struggling with their marriage (she is played, incidentally, by Cory Oliver, from television’s “Beverly Hills Pawn”), a journalist struggles with her unsympathetic husband and then has an unwelcome surprise, and Josh’s girlfriend, who doesn't approve of his actions, is about to give him an ultimatum.

The movie is full of stereotypes, including a violent scene in which a father confronts his daughter who wants to change her walk of faith, and a dinner scene in which academics are cruel, acting as a group to humiliate another person.

As far as the script goes, the story line is contrived and often preposterous, particularly in its portrayal of academics and higher education. You’ll be able to guess what’s going to happen to each person as the plot rolls along.

The acting, with the exception of Sorbo, is questionable and unconvincing. This is a made-for-TV movie in feature-film disguise.

There is one genuine moment when The Newsboys encounter a character who desperately needs hope. This scene reflects the band’s faith and even offers a moment of gentle humor.

More faith-based films are being released this year, including “Noah” and “Heaven is For Real” within the next few weeks. Here’s hoping they both offer more substance and depth.

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