Thursday, August 25, 2011

Apocalypse Imminent: Jerusalem Countdown

Here’s a wild premise: the Arab countries of the Middle East have united to annihilate Israel. Shocking, right? Believe it or not, Russia supports their cabal. Moreover, it is all foretold in Biblical prophecy. Perhaps that last part lost you, but it is rather central to Harold Cronk’s Evangelical thriller Jerusalem Countdown (trailer here), inspired by the book of the same title by Pastor John Hagee, which opens across the country, except New York City, this Friday.

Arlyn Rockwell is a smuggler, not a mass murder. That is why he reaches out to FBI agent Shane Daughtry after completing his latest assignment. Though initially skeptical of the old good old boy, he is convinced when an assassin comes calling. It seems Rockwell’s fateful job involved several suitcase sized objects. Yet, that is just part of the conspiracy. Daughtry and his former partner (at the Bureau and in ill-concealed romantic tension) Eve Rearden also learn an imminent attack will be made on the Israeli delegation to the latest orchestrated attempt to strong-arm the country into giving up more land, euphemistically called peace talks.

Meanwhile, a failed writer grows increasingly suspicious of his new Iranian neighbors. Suspecting something nefarious, he starts nipping over to have a looksee, cleverly asking the menacing Javed if he could borrow a cup of weaponized plutonium.

Compared to the last explicitly Evangelical film reviewed here, Countdown represents an enormous step forward in professionalism. In many respects, it is a perfectly respectable B-movie (never a term of derision around these parts), with some nicely produced action sequences.

As the lead protagonist, David A.R. White (whose credits include a recurring role on Evening Shade) is a credible and engaging protagonist. Likewise, Anna Zielinski projects a smart, charismatic screen presence as Rearden. Countdown even features Lee “The Six Million Dollar Fall Guy” Majors as Rockwell, which is totally cool. Indeed, for the most part, the ensemble cast is at least professional grade, if not considerably better.

Unfortunately, the proselytizing sequences still play more than a little clunky. To its credit, there is a surprisingly effective scene in which the agnostic agents Daughtry and Rearden start professing doubt in their doubt. However, the scenes of the writer’s wife hard-selling him her faith get repetitive quickly. Frankly, they are naggy both for his character and the audience.

To an extent though, such interludes are too be expected. What is truly disappointing about Countdown is the way in which it casts certain American intelligence personnel as villains. We expect that of Hollywood, but when Evangelical films start demonizing the CIA, what hope is there for agency supporters?

Though none of Countdown takes place in Israel, we do hear the Israeli Prime Minister cogently explain how much land Israel has already given up for peace, only to receive war and terrorism in return. In that respect, the film is quite timely, particularly when the current administration’s position of the day seems to be a return to the pre-1948 borders.

In fact, there is some decent international intrigue afoot, up until the big finish, which will limit the film’s appeal outside the Evangelical community. Regardless, credit is still due to White and Zielinski for keeping viewers focused and vested throughout. A lighter touch would have better served the story, but for the Empire State faithful, Countdown opens tomorrow (8/26) at the Newburgh Showtime Cinemas and at churches and theaters across the country.