The moment when you start to voice the old "I can't believe they left that part of of the book out of the movie! That was the best part!" complaint, and the movie about which you are complaining is Left Behind, that's when you discover that you need to take a nice long break from watching movies, and perhaps should go for more walks out in the woods. But they did leave the best part out, and I can't believe it. They also left out a huge amount of bad parts, mind you: surprisingly, the film is, in its entirety, about only a tiny segment of Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins's miserable 1996 novel about LaHaye's very particular, small-minded, punishing brand of Christianity. The movie dramatises literally only about the first 50 pages of the 450-page novel, meaning that if it had somehow managed to become a success and kick of a new franchise adapting the entire 16-book series, the film producers were all set to commit to 48 motion pictures to make that happen. Talk about living in a Godless universe...

The point being, by the end of the first 50 pages, the novel Left Behind hasn't even introduced us to the villain yet, the vampiric Antichrist from Romania Nicolae Carpathia. And I mean, seriously, are you going to tell me that a movie in which Nicolas Cage fights a dime-store Dracula named Nicolae Carpathia isn't obviously preferable to literally any other movie where Nicolas Cage does anything? Of course you're not, it's not possible to hold such dimwitted belief. Unless, apparently, you are screenwriters/producers Paul Lalonde & John Patus, returning to help create this new film after having their fingers all over the original trilogy of direct-to-video adaptations starring Kirk Cameron. And let us not forget that LaHaye & Jenkins actually sued to stop that series of adaptations to continue ruining their carefully worked-out franchise of novels in which one half of a plot point occurred every 300 pages. For them to then turn around and let the same producers take another whack at the material seems a bit iffy. And maybe that explains why this new Left Behind resembles the book to hardly any degree, and resembles evangelical Christian propaganda even less. Which surprised me even more than the absence of Carpathia, given that evangelism is basically the only thing that the Left Behind books, movies, video games, and whatever other forms it has taken have ever been. Evangelism, mixed with smug reminders to the True Christians that they're better and purer than all the rest of us sinful schmucks.

None of that is to be found in this Left Behind, except around the very edges. Heck, the word "Rapture" is never even spoken to describe the event that occurs around the one-third mark, leaving every child and young teenager vanished off the face of the planet, along with all the adults who have come to believe the proper things about Jesus. Instead, it's a thriller - a very circumscribed, boring thriller that director Vic Armstrong hobbles with a very quiet, non-urgent tone throughout, about landing a plane under moderately adverse conditions. Recognising, to their credit, that "the passengers are freaked out, but mostly calmly remaining quiet, like the one remaining pilot asked them to do" isn't nearly enough to support an entire film, Lalonde & Patus eventually decide to bump up the stakes by throwing a second, pilotless plane at the first one, rupturing its fuel tanks in a mid-air collision and offering up something like a dramatic scenario for at least the final third of the 110-minute film. Mostly, though, the movie seems to believe that it can coast by on the mystery of what happened to all those people, which is obvious bullshit: we didn't pay money to see a movie called Left Behind because we don't know what it's about. Or what it's supposed to be about, anyway.

So the ingredients are these: Cage plays Rayford Steele, a pilot with a boring, preachy wife named Irene (Lea Thompson, looking thoroughly roughed-up by what amounts to little more than a cameo), is flying to London on his birthday, just to avoid being with his family, and also to flirt with the sexy flight attendant Hattie (Nicky Whelan). This breaks the heart of his daughter Chloe (Cassi Thomson, who looks like the person you get after asking the casting agent for Kristen Bell, and she laughs in your face), who was flying in from college to surprise him, and spotted him flirting with his Christ-denying whore. This sent her straight into the metaphorical-but-not-literal-because-sex-is-dirty arms of Cameron "Buck" Williams (Chad Michael Murray), heartthrob and internationally renowned investigative TV reporter. He happens to be flying on Rayford's flight, and proves to be an able right-hand man when the crisis hits. Meanwhile, Chloe returns home, dismissing her mother's loving nagging about religion just long enough to be at the mall with her little brother, who evaporates right as they're hugging, in a moment that would be touchingly shocking if it wasn't so damn goofy in execution: Thomson's expression is pricelessly fake, and the score by Jack Lenz (which is always a liability, though sometimes only a small one) is at its very worst during the Rapture, not sure if the tone is supposed to be "oh no, where is everyone, this is scary!" or "how wonderful all those people are in Heaven now", and so it decides to split the difference.

Of all the problems I expected to have with the movie, not one of them came true, and all of them were replaced by more boring alternatives: instead of bombastic, condescending preaching, it's a Christian audiences movies that's downright simpering in how shyly it mentions Christianity; instead of trying, feebly, to suggest a worldwide crisis that results in a charismatic businessman installing a one-world government, done on a budget too small to evoke even a tenth of the scale it needs, it sets up shop on a single airplane full of weirdly idiosyncratic characters and proceeds to march through an unironic version of Airplane!. Saddest of all, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is Nic Cage: instead of seeing him uncork and go apeshit in his anti-Antichrist histrionics, he's playing one of his boring and sedate check-cashing roles, all sober authority as an airline pilot who occasionally gets teary-eyed when he thinks about his family. That's what I can't forgive about this Left Behind: it's too limited in ambition or thematic overreach to be campy. Cage is half-asleep, Murray is devoured by his sexyindie beard, and only Thomson, chirpy and flirty in ways that feel wildly out of place in a movie of this stripe (she even says "shit"!), brings any kind of bad movie dementia to the proceedings. That Left Behind would be more infuriating than schlocky inept fun I was prepared for. That it would be infuriating mostly because of how drowsy and boring it is, I was not prepared for that at all, and thus I find myself in the curious place of being actually disappointed by a low-budget movie about the Rapture. Being a bad movie fan can really be horrible, sometimes.