The opening sequence of Kevin Sorbo's directorial debut Let There Be Light clues you in to how detached and merciless it is at stereotyping atheists. It shows Sorbo as Dr. Sol Harkens, a world-famous God-basher who has made a career peddling secular ideology through his many best-selling novels, engaged in a theological debate with a Christian author that quickly dissolves into shameless showboating. Sol talks about how part of his contempt for God is due to the tragic death of his nine-year-old son from a vicious illness, but also riles up the crowd by proclaiming that the ideology to which he subscribes is a much simpler one: sex, drugs, and rock and roll and a response to sin by simply saying "Party on, Wayne!"
It's trite and embarrassing, but who would've pegged Kevin Sorbo, the same man who played an atheist who winds up getting killed in God's Not Dead, as someone who would be interested in giving a large sector of people a shred of humanity? His work in Let There Be Light is a caricatured atrocity, tailor-made for the crowd it preaches to and few others. It's a terribly written, messily conceived film that ranks alongside this year's Slamma Jamma as one of the genre's grossest miscalculations as both have successfully festered a new low-point for Christian cinema.
Back to the plot at hand. Sol is a miserable booze-hound, double-fisting vodka and champagne like it's his second career while being dictated by his publicist and publisher, both of whom chomping at the bit to get a piece of his success. A dramatic downturn comes in the form of a drunk-driving episode that has Sol clinically dead for four minutes while being transported to the hospital; during this time, he has a near-death experience where he sees his son in a tranquil state amidst a flurry of his memories. His son hugs him and tells his father "let there be light" before fading away into a light of his own. Sol sustains a concussion and a strong risk of a stroke due to a blood-clot when he finally wakes up, but decides that it's time to get his life on track when he can't seem to shake the vision he had.
He enlists in the help of his divorced wife Katy (Sam Sorbo, Kevin's wife) and two children (played by his real-life children), in addition to Katy's pastor Vinny, played by Michael Franzese, the film's best actor, a one-time mobster turned reformed Christian after a stint in prison. With their guidance, Sol is baptized, and even as tragedy rears its ugly head on another member of their family, Sol and Katy remain committed to putting on a worldwide display called "let there be light." The event somehow involves millions of people shining their smartphone-flashlights into the sky so brightly that NASA can see them from space.
But Let There Be Light has more problems than simply its incredulous plot. To begin with, this is a calculated film in terms of its dialog. Sorbo writes characters who say what they want him to say with the precise wording of biblical pamphlets and Christian literature. Characters do not speak like human-beings, and every conversation is so "on-the-nose," so to speak, that it's impossible to have empathy for figures that are vessels in a message movie. Nobody, except Franzese, feels natural in their roles, especially Sorbo's kids, blurting and mishandling their lines so badly that even the blissful orchestration can't save the delivery.
Furthermore, Sorbo gets so distracted by trivialities it's a wonder if he had anyone besides his wife read over the script before shooting began. A recurring joke is that Sol, in a drunken stammer, ordered ten cases of special Sham-Wow-like rags and mop-heads from a late-night infomercial he watched on a daily basis. The script keeps going back to that point as if it's supposed to be the cornerstone of the film's humor when it just comes off as bizarrely interjected comedy.
In addition, Sol's son Gus (Braeden Sorbo, Kevin's real-life son) appears to have incestually possessive tendencies towards his mother Katy in the film. Another one of the film's miserable attempts at humor is when Sol and Katy reconcile enough to have a cordial dinner-date, Gus stands in the way of his mother and father by talking to his father like he's agreeing to let hisdaughter go on a date: "have her back by 10:00 sharp, dad." The whole thing is awkward and uncomfortable.
Finally, there is the presence of Fox News anchor Sean Hannity, one of the film's main financiers and lead executive producer. His role in the film comes towards the end when the mystifying "let there be light" event takes place. One of the film's most laughable moments comes when Hannity asks both Sol and Katy if they're ready for the backlash and hate they're likely to endure for allegedly forcing their religious beliefs on people. Sol responds with something to the degree of "do you think ISIS cares about religious freedom when they're chopping people's heads off?" "That's a powerful point," Hannity responds. Most illogical; Sorbo's preoccupation with justifying his character's motivations in the film by mentioning the great atrocities the famous terror-group has committed feels like an iteration of his own fear-complex. At least it gently redirects from the ever-so-common fetish with persecution most of these faith-based films have.
Let There Be Light is an awful motion-picture, an unmitigated disaster, put mildly. It's a sloppy production crossed with abysmal writing from Sorbo, who use his passion project to suggest that atheists are abusive, self-absorbed alcoholics with no sense of a moral compass or compassion. The film is all of this while catering to the public's fears of ISIS and a secular world in order to generate undeserved praise. I slammed Slamma Jamma for being a film that was so incompetent it couldn't even bring itself to use its faith as a plot-device in a way that was even remotely convincing. Let There Be Light knows how to use its faith to pander, and in doing so, it has made the most offensively bad movie I've seen all year.
Steve's Grade: FShare: