LBTM: Gone off naked

LBTM: Gone off naked December 5, 2008

Right, so, Part 3 …

CamCam and the Girl With the Smudge are watching the video of Prophet Guy. The tape has him speaking in Hebrew, but CamCam remembers hearing him speak in English.

This ought to be worth a second look. CamCam after all, doesn't understand Hebrew, yet he remembers exactly what the man told him. It would be a simple matter to translate the Hebrew on the tape and to confirm that it was the same message CamCam thought he heard in English. That would be evidence of, well, something out of the ordinary. CamCam, as the GIRAT, ought to be curious about what that something is and what it means. But Smudgy just pulls a Scully and they both glibly let this mystery pass unexplored.

Suddenly, we're confronted with another mystery: How did footage of Nicolae Carpathia wind up spliced onto the footage Buck shot in Israel?

This is our first look at the movie's Antichrist, played with goofy enthusiasm by Gordon Currie who, it must be said, looks nothing like a young Robert Redford.

Currie is great fun here, though. He has fewer choices available to him in this project than most of his castmates. Brad Johnson seems to have decided, admirably, to respect the job despite the script and to make Rayford seem as three-dimensional and human as possible. It's almost heroic the way Johnson tries to impose some kind of emotional logic and reality on Rayford's actions. That's not an option for Currie — Nicolae isn't human and no sense or logic can be made of his actions. So Currie latches on to one of the few options he does have: Camp. His inspiration seems to be Ed Wood-period Bela Lugosi.

Our first glimpse of Carpathia shows him, of course, standing alongside the least of these, feeding the hungry and comforting what appears to be a group of widows and orphans. Faithful followers of LaHaye & Jenkins will recognize these clues as clear signs that this must be the Antichrist.

Some boss-type guy (Steve Plank?) wanders in and says something cynically dismissive about the idealistic speech Nicolae is giving in the video. This makes me wonder if there's anyone left for Carpathia to persuade. The RTCs hear him talk about the hungry and they think he's the Antichrist. The worldly sinners hear him and they mock him as a goody-two-shoes. And in L&J's world, those are the only two groups of people there are.

MaybeSteve, who apparently prints out wire stories, hands one to Buck. "Europe has just standardized their currency with Korea," he says. "Bizarre, huh? One step closer to a global currency."

It's nice to see the movie is maintaining the book's commitment to "Bible prophecy" as a series of disconnected future events that must occur, no matter how arbitrary and illogical they might seem.

MaybeSteve addresses Smudgy as "Darlin'," as though GNN were the Sterling Cooper ad agency in the 1960s, but Buck calls her by name — yes, Smudgy has a name! "Ivy," he says. And it turns out she's "Ivy Gold," a noncanonical character introduced by the film.

Poor CamCam is deeply confused by his sudden, intermittent fluency in ancient Hebrew and by the mystery of whether it should still be called a "euro" if it's also being used in South (and North?) Korea. He realizes he's going to need help sorting all of this out. He's going to need a manic crazy person's perspective and he knows just who to call. "See if you can get Dirk Burton on the phone for me," he says

The scene changes and we find ourselves in the English countryside of central London, at a castle-like building that bears a passing resemblance to Lex Luthor's mansion on Smallville. The man who lives here is just as ruthlessly ambitious as Lex, but nowhere near as competent. Yes, it's Jonathan Stonagal, and the way he says the words "world peace" they almost sound as ominously nefarious as L&J consider those words to be.

The filmmakers have the luxury here of not having to dwell on the sketchy and incoherent details of Stonagal's global conspiracy as they are hinted at in the book. Playing Stonagal is Daniel Pilon, another old pro and a working actor slumming for a paycheck here. He goes through the motions here of the unctuously evil corporate puppetmaster type. Blah blah blah, Rosenzweig, blah blah blueprints of the Temple Mount. He rattles off this nonsense so efficiently that Currie doesn't bother to interrupt him. Carpathia just takes his blueprints and his plane ticket and leaves, looking more like a busboy than like a charismatic potential world leader.

IMDB tells us that Anthony DeSantis, here playing the part of Joshua Todd-Cothran (though they dropped the Todd- for the movie), had never previously acted. Nor has he done anything since. Please don't misunderstand the phrase "previously acted" to mean that he is acting here. That wouldn't be an accurate description of the deeply uncomfortable squirming he brings to this scene. I was surprised that IMDB didn't also list a co-producer's credit for DeSantis, because I'd have guessed that he got the role by investing in the financing of this film. (Co-producer Andre van Heerden, for example, had a line earlier as "Man in New York Studio Welcoming Buck back after Israeli attack.")

This scene illustrates again the way a capable acting professional can make even an atrocious script somehow watchable. Both Stonagal and Cothran are babbling nonsense here ("What about the Arabs?"). That nonsense is painfully on display as DeSantis awkwardly recites his lines, but Pilon rattles through this stuff with the self-assurance of the former soap opera actor that he is and it's almost enough to convince you that he thinks it all makes sense.

The key plot point in all of this babbling is that Dirk Burton will have to die lest he expose their scheme to rebuild the Temple and achieve world dominion by using Korean euros to feed dead Arab children.

Cut to: Unnecessary filler. CamCam walks to a balcony and leans against it for exactly 10 seconds. Eight one thousand … nine one thousand … aaand 10. Was that 10 seconds? He checks his watch. Yup. And he walks away. Pointless and horribly executed, but still better than the 20 or so pages this non-scene would have taken up in the book.

Finally, half an hour into our movie, we arrive at the first page of the book. Buck is on a Pan-Continental flight from Chicago to New York and on to London. In the book, Dirk was in London. In the film, he's in Chicago, so I'm not really clear why CamCam is on this flight. Also, an awful lot of time seems to have passed since Rayford left the house for this flight. This confirms my suspicion: The flight left later, he just needed an excuse to get out of Irene's Bible-themed birthday party/prayer meeting.

We get an establishing snippet of Rayford doing pilot-y things. I know little about pilot-y things so I have no idea if this bit is plausible, but it's followed by a similar shot of CamCam doing supposedly reporter-y things, and this bit is painful. He's calling up old articles about Stonagal and Cothran on his laptop, something the set designer had apparently never seen done in real life. Based on the byline on one of those prop articles — "News wire service – Correspondence Update" — it's possible this set designer had never seen an actual newspaper either.

And now, for the first time, we see Hattie Durham, played by CamCam's real-world wife (and designated stunt-kissee), the lovely and … well, the lovely Chelsea Noble. She does a bit of flight-attendant-y business, which is mainly a way to get all the stunt-casting extras on camera.** As Hattie works her way through the cabin, she pays particular attention

to the small children on the plane
. If you know what's coming, this is mildly creepy. Note that even mildly creepy is orders of magnitude creepier than how this scene played out in the book.

Let me reinforce the point that Chelsea Noble and Kirk Cameron are married in real life. They've been married for 17 years and they have six children. Really.

I'm stressing this point because you would never guess this was the case, or even perhaps believe it to be true, based on the onscreen chemistry they display once Hattie works her way up to his seat in the first-class part of the cabin.

The dialogue doesn't help. "How's my favorite flight attendant?" he asks. "It's OK, Buck," she replies. And everything about their interaction is similarly out of sync. Here is a conversation between two actors who both seem to act only on their own lines. (Recite line. Stop acting and wait for the other person to finish speaking. Recite next line.)

Here in the movie, Buck and Hattie already know one another. That's a helpful change — reminding us that Buck is a frequent-flying jet-setter, and showing us that he can be a nice guy willing to put in a good word for an acquaintance to help her land a new job. And that's a more interesting departure from the book: Hattie has already lined up her job at the United Nations. She had help from Buck, but she sought this new job on her own — demonstrating an independence and initiative that we only saw in those flashes of the book where Meta-Hattie fought her way to the surface. Where book-Hattie went from being Rayford's pawn to being Nicolae's, this Hattie had the self-respect to leave the airline and start building a new life before she gets explicitly rejected by Rayford.

Movie-Hattie didn't even tell Rayford she was leaving the airline until it's a done deal. "Just felt it was time to move on," she tells him, and good for her. I don't want to overstate the difference between book and movie here — it's not like the movie is feminist  on this point. It simply allows that female characters might also be human. Compared to the enthusiastic and aggressive misogyny of the novel, that seems almost radical.

Rayford follows Hattie out of the cockpit and Hattie sings another chorus of "You Keep Me Hangin' On," prompting Rayford to move in for the kiss. One wonders if Mrs. Cameron shares her husband's bizarre notion that stage kisses are a form of cheating, because just before their lips touch the camera cuts away.

We're back in the first-class cabin. The elderly woman playing the part of "Elderly Woman" is making the most of her handful of lines. "It's my husband, he's disappeared," she says, delivering the line as though she were saying, "Is this a dagger which I see before me?"

CamCam agrees to go check to see if the missing husband is in the restroom when she says, "I think he's gone off naked" and we see the empty clothes and glasses on the airplane seat. Mildly creepy.

This is an awkward, momentum-killing spot for this particular segment of the movie to end, but on the other hand, it's hard to ask for a better stopping point than that phrase, "He's gone off naked."

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* I read through most of the rottentomatoes reviews of Cameron's latest film, Fireproof and, unexpectedly, the plot seems almost to parallel the Aristotelian prescription I offered last week for the former child star's spiritual and artistic blindspots. Cameron's firefighter protagonist is on the verge of divorce when his RTC father-in-law gives him a book called "The Love Dare," which offers a 40-day program in which he's supposed to perform small acts of love for his wife. Over the course of the movie, these actions become habits, their love for one another is rekindled, their marriage is saved and they all live happily ever after.

The movie's idea of marriage, in other words, follows the same logic of virtue as craft and habit (what 12-steppers refer to as "fake it 'til you make it") that I thought might be able to salvage Cameron's dismally failing acting career. Maybe if I called it "The Shakespeare Dare" he'd actually give it a try.

I haven't seen Fireproof yet, since my church isn't big on group ticket sales for trips to the movies. We do sometimes have video nights, but I'm not allowed to participate in those anymore ever since that time I was in charge of bringing the video and I accidentally picked up something called Babette's Feats. This turned out not to be Gabriel Axel's Academy Award-winning allegory of divine grace. And so now not only am I not allowed to bring the videos for movie night,  I'm not allowed to bring anything to pot luck dinners either.

** The filmmakers have included several famous premillennial dispensationalists in this scene. This stunt was probably intended mainly as a way of ensuring the favorable disposition of these influential leaders in the movie's target demographic of Bible prophecy nuts, but you might recognize a few of these faces from late night TV.

First, at about the 5:08 mark is, I think, the late Dr. John Walvoord. He was for years the head of Dallas Theological Seminary, which was for most of the 20th century the main institution promoting the psychedelic 19th-century eschatology popularized by LaHaye & Jenkins. The peak of Walvoord's fame probably came around the time of the first Gulf War, when his book explaining that the Ayatollah Khomeini is the Antichrist was republished with very slight changes as a book explaining that Saddam Hussein is the Antichrist.

At 5:27, as Hattie walks up the aisle, she pauses near Jack and Rexella Van Impe, the co-hosts of what may be the most addictively awful religious program on television. Their famous faces are shown only in silhouette, but Jack's hair is unmistakable. He seems to have his Bible open, pointing to a verse as she nods in agreement — pretty much the same shtick they do on their show. There's a clearer look at all three Van Impes (Jack, Rexella and Jack's Hair) at around 5:42, right after Hattie gets the pillow from the overhead bin.

At 5:32 as the camera cuts to a close-up of the baby Hattie is kneeling to greet (the child of one of the film's co-producers), you'll seen in the seats behind them the Rev. John Hagee and his wife, Diana. Hagee is listed in the movie's credits as "Vanished Man on Plane with Flowered Shirt." (The plane has a flowered shirt?) Hagee is perhaps best known as the man so crazy that even John McCain didn't want his endorsement.

Walvoord, Hagee and the Van Impes won't be appearing in Part 4 of LBTM. They've gone off naked too.

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