Cinematic Releases: Heaven Is For Real

"Heaven" may or may not be for real, depending on your point of view.

"Is this the perv that did it?"

Unfortunately, `Heaven is for Real' is a real film you can really see in theaters.  It has all the makings of a made-for-television film, filled with false promises of ethereal vistas witnessed during a four year old boy's near death experience.

From the hokey images presented in the trailer, it's obvious that this film is designed to lure unsuspecting Christian and secular viewers alike into the theater with hopes of turning over a profit. While I have nothing against Christian films or lofty musings about "the light," I don't appreciate false advertising. 

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In the cinema world of 'Brainstorm', 'Jacob's Ladder', 'What Dreams May Come', 'Ghost', 'The Fountain', and unfortunately 'Hideaway', we've seen more than our fair share of visually arresting depictions of the afterlife. When your film is named 'Heaven is for Real,' and purports to be an evident document of a world beyond our own, we expect to at least see something that engages us.

The film instead chases its tail in conversation and scenes that look like Lifetime reruns of domestic small-town drama, interspersed with curiously bad SyFy Channel-style renditions of Heaven. As this mediocre drama droned on, I began asking myself why I was seeing this on a theater screen instead of a TV, why it cost $12 million to produce, and whether or not this was going to rise above the shortcomings of the Hallmark Movie. My latter questions were answered by the arrival of peppy Christian Rock playing exuberantly over the end credits, much to my chagrin.

The only life breathing in this otherwise dead, soulless exercise in Bible beating is Greg Kinnear as the local pastor, baseball coach and father of the young lad in question.  He does what he can with a role this flat, and like all great actors manages to cry on command. It's a shame, considering how high Kinnear rose to credibility with his brilliant portrait of troubled actor Bob Crane in Paul Schrader's 'Auto Focus'. 

Everyone else is basically thankless, although to be fair, the casting director succeeded in finding a child actor who looks like the real boy who claimed he went to Heaven and back.  It's too bad this film doesn't come anywhere near the realm implied in it's title.

-Andrew Kotwicki