This movie is bad. You probably already knew that. I am somewhat alarmed that there appears to be a whole lot of eager Christian filmgoers that will plop down plenty of dollars to see anything, no matter how horrible, if it conveys a Christian message. Just because you can agree with a message doesn't mean the product is worthwhile. Here are some things to think about if someone ever asks you if you've seen the movie Fireproof.
1) Fireproof exists in a world not our own. The characters behave in odd ways that do not appear to resemble observable human behavior. Some leeway is given because, yes, they are fictional characters, but they say dialogue that sounds forced and clichés, and they do actions that are contrived because the movie requires them for the plot. Here are some minor examples that play to this theme:
a) The town of Albany, Georgia is designed like a small town even though it has a metropolitan population of about 160,000. And yet the town only has one crew of firefighters consisting of five guys, and three of those guys are clearly not in a physical condition that would be deemed passing. Seriously, these guys are too overweight to be firefighters. Because of the film's small town presentation and the fact that the county clearly doesn't care about physical fitness for its emergency responders, Fireproof thus gives us a fire crew that has a whole lot of time on their hands. This complicates things because it makes it seem like Caleb would have more time to be nice to his wife.
b) The women are presented in completely unflattering ways. There are two main female characters, Catherine and Caleb's mother, and a gaggle of female nurses that simply cannot help themselves when it comes to gossiping and clucking like hens. Every black woman in this movie at some point must say the utterance, "Mmmhmmmm," and of course bob their head as they talk. The dialogue feels forcibly "black" for these characters when it just could have been normal. Caleb's mother is briefly presented as a concerned figure but Caleb just tells her to shut it and asks for alone time with dad, you know, the man of the house. She never stands up for herself and her husband, Caleb's father, does a lousy job of telling his idiot son to respect his freaking mother. Now Catherine is given plenty more time and she has some serious grievances with her lunkhead mate, but when he tries doing helpful and nice things she still decides to be cold to him. Why? Maybe Catherine is just a cold person, after all. One of the very first moments we see her character is when she's talking to her mother, who has recently had a stroke. Catherine is venting about her troubled marriage and then begins to break down to her mother and says, unbelievably, "I miss the real you." Excuse me? Just because your mother had a stroke doesn't mean she's any different, and she can still hear and understand you, dear.
c) Internet pornography is played with more drama than the Holt's marriage. When it comes to dramas that center around marital discord, it shouldn't take much effort to create a compelling conflict. But I just didn't buy the conflict between Caleb and Catherine from the start. The conflicts in their marriage are rather mundane, which is likely very realistic for many couples but it makes for poor drama. He wants the respect he feels he's entitled to. She wants her husband to spend time with her and be nicer to her. He wants to buy a boat with his money. She wants new shelves. Hoe expensive can shelves be? Catherine does feel temptation at work from a doctor that takes time out to listen and make her feel special. That's a real dilemma. On Caleb's side? His big moment comes when he battles his addiction to Internet pornography, which was an issue the filmmakers also addressed in their previous flick, Facing the Giants. Caleb is looking at boats online when a pop-up appears that asks if he "Wanna see?" a sexy lady. Oh, the horror. Caleb lingers. Then he paces, all the while staring at the tempting pop-up ad a mere click away. He paces more. Dramatic music starts to build. "Why is this so hard?" he angrily asks to no one in particular. This goes on for like a minute solid. Then he resist the temptation and is determined to be a better man for his wife, sans pornography. Great. Except that's not exactly what he decides to do. He decides to take the computer outside and literally smash it to pieces. There is likely plenty of personal information, credit card numbers, family photos, personal documents, and more on that computer, but alas Caleb decides to get smash happy with a baseball bat. I understand that Internet pornography is a realistic addiction for many people but, again, it makes for terrible drama in a PG-rated movie. His wife is nonplussed when she finds out about the computer being smashed. Human beings do not behave like this! At the very least, she should have been angry that he just wasted money. You know, you can get Adult Web site blocking software for much cheaper than a new computer.
d) Caleb totally got hosed when it came to hospital supplies. This is a lesser charge but it still sticks in my memory. Caleb has saved up $24,000 for a boat but ultimately spends all of it to pay for a wheelchair and a hospital bed for Catherine's mother. Catherine is so thickheaded that it takes her weeks to figure out her husband spent the dough and not the nice doctor she talks with at the hospital. There is no way that a hospital bed and one electric wheelchair cost that much money. Caleb got taken for a sucker. Catherine's mother had a stroke, and you're telling me that in her situation she doesn't qualify for Medicare? The government probably should have covered the whole thing, if not most of the expenses. But then this incident is just a cheap conflict that makes Catherine look stupid and Caleb look naïve.
2) The metaphors are leaden and inane. Given the title and the nature of Caleb's profession, you can bet your bottom dollar you're going to be inundated with "fire" metaphors: "You never leave your partner behind, especially in a fire." Or how about_: "Fireproof doesn't mean the fire will never come. It means when the fire comes that you will be able to withstand it." You get the idea. What's even worse is that the movie offers metaphors that are intended to be profound but are astoundingly shallow. One character says, "You know a woman is like a rose. If you treat her right she'll bloom, if you don't she'll wither." That is quite possible the worst simile I've ever heard in my life. Read it again, please. It is essentially saying, "A woman is like a [thing]. If you are [good] to her then [good will happen to thing]. If you are [bad] to her then [bad will happen to thing]." This is basic attribution, people. I can come up with equally profound comparisons using this model. How about this one: "A woman is like a '62 Chevy. If you treat her right she'll keep running, if you don't she'll need to be put up on blocks."
3) This Love Dare book is tripe. This book actually exists now, by popular demand from the many people that watched Fireproof and asked for this guidebook. I'm supportive for anyone out there that actually tries to save their marriage rather than give up, but let's face it, sometimes some marriages were meant to be dissolved. Just ask Britney Spears. Caleb's mentoring firefighter buddy reveals, shocker, he was previously married at one point, and he confesses, "I got married for the wrong reasons and then divorced for the wrong reasons." Well, if you were married for the wrong reasons and not truly compatible then perhaps you got divorced for the right reasons. Ignoring this, the book that Caleb's father presents has some tepid advice. Day One: Don't say anything negative to your spouse. Day Two: Do a small act of kindness. Day Three: Check in on your spouse. Yawn. This is common sense marketed as life-changing behavior recipes. You really needed a book to tell you that a successful marriage is aided by holding your tongue? What really makes the book questionable is what happens on Day 23 or so: remove parasites from your marriage, a.k.a. addictions like gambling, drugs, and pornography. Why is such a monumental step placed at the halfway point? Will saying nice things and buying flowers really matter if you still have a heroin habit?
4) Little to this movie feels authentic or genuine. I've already gone into plenty of detail about why the movie feels unrealistic, but the $500,000 budget doesn't help matters when it comes to authenticity. Visually, the Kendrick brothers know the language of film but are clueless when it comes to making a visually appealing picture. Fireproof does the term "bland" a disservice. I counted exactly five shots that I thought were visually interesting, and I might have been generous. The editing is also poor and frequently shots will not match up well. Yes, shortcuts are going to have to be made, but monetary shortcuts don't interfere with writing good characters and realistic interplay. Not one single character feels like you would ever find them existing outside of this movie. Even the Christian characters come across unflattering and not genuine. My favorite part in the entire film was when an old nurse at the hospital spotted Catherine and the hunky doctor flirting in the hall. The camera fixed on her disapproving stink-eyed glare and it held for so long, and the woman put so much distaste in her expression that I instantly wanted her face as a Halloween mask. When she appears again to eat with Catherine she takes great pains to excuse herself so she can call attention to her praying before her meal. I cannot fathom a random moviegoer warming up to this woman via her portrayal. Even Caleb gets to threaten the hunky doc with a not so subtle call to a brawl.
I've already espoused more words on this movie than it deserves. Fireproof isn't so much a movie as it is an accessory to a Bible study guide, or a marketing tool for selling the Love Dare book. It cannot stand on its own merits as a worthy film. It's predictable, unabashedly cheesy, poorly written, poorly directed, and poorly acted. I know Kirk Cameron isn't a terribly good actor, but man he blows every other actor away in this. There is some fairly pedestrian acting, especially from Bethea. I'm happy if people can walk away from any movie and want to be better people, even if it's because of dumb movies like Fireproof. I think the most annoying aspect of the film is how insistent it is that a faltering marriage must turn to God in order to be saved. Look, if you need God to tell you to clean the house or be nice to your wife, then you have bigger issues.
Nate's Grade: C-[/color]
Fireproof is about a firefighter using a 40-day experiment known as "The Love Dare" in an attempt to save his marriage. Being a film based around a specific religion it's impossible to ignore the signatures it'll have; positive messages, bible verses, characters with strong religious beliefs, and (often) an unrealistic view of how the real world functions. For starter the positive message and bible verses are as clear as day, but not shoehorned in. Characters with Christian views don't come across as preachy often conversing like regular people. For the most part the characters act realistically even supporting our protagonist who's a nonbeliever. It's for this acceptance that makes it Christian elements with corny dialogue forgivable. The protagonist is not condemned for being a nonbeliever rather is simply a man attempting to fix his marriage. By the will of the protagonist and not outside interference his transformation comes across effectively. This conflict helps supports the film as it contains several solid scenes. Including the few instances when we see the protagonist doing some actual firefighting are surprisingly exciting. Humor is also a plus while it doesn't always click the jokes that do get a laugh prevent the messy potential divorce from becoming tedious to view.
The major pitfall of "Fireproof" is without a doubt it presentation of the world. Words such as realism don't apply to its depiction of women. Just about all the characters who are women tend to be shallow being less like people and more as a tool to for the plot. Even the protagonist wife gets little to no development nor are we given much on her past and what made her fall in love. Every black women in the film is given stereotypical dialogue with the occasional "mmmhhhmmm" for added effect. One major conflict in the film that's not addressed well enough is protagonist Caleb Holt porn addiction (also a metaphor for temptation). According to the film the only form Caleb can get his porn is from his computer. If more developed or presented in a form that made his porn addiction evidently problematic the presented weak resolution would have work to a degree. Since it does little in showing Caleb Holt handling his addiction the resolution doesn't gain leeway since we often don't see him fall victim to his addiction only scarcely viewing his attempted resistance to it. It should also be mention that the final twenty minutes are in fact very preaching, but by that point the film is merely accomplishing the needs for it genre fans with it already offering nonbelievers a satisfying story.
Production values are decent. It clearly looks like it was made on a small budget with it commercial like lighting and few actual professional actors. Kirk Cameron is easily the best of the bunch, though that's not saying much. His performance is decent for a leading actor. There is not a noteworthy that showcases his true acting ability, but neither border beyond what he can't do. Because of this it is easy to accept Cameron as a film character as everything he does fits with his characters. Ken Bevel performance leaves something to be desired. She is not to say bad, but in the most pivotal scenes she clearly comes across as someone reading her lines for the first time. Other actor performances are adequate and sincere. There performances don't hurt the film significantly detract from a given scene. Direction from Alex Kendrick is decent. In the few instances (like the firefighter scenes) when Kendrick has complete understanding of his film language events can be tense, funny, and even touching. While his cinematography won't impress it does it job. As for music it's something that can't be held against the film. It selection of music is fitting for the film becoming a part of it not a negative distraction.
Fireproof is a solid film that gets across its core moral values with a subtle delivery through its somewhat believable characters and a solid story that is not overly preaching. No doubt it'll please genre fans as production values and writing is superior to what is occasionally offered to them. On the other hand it's competent filmmaking that does not force its message down nonbelievers.
But I'm hoping that more Christian filmmakers can come along and break out of the habit of making everything corny and fluffy though. I've yet to see a right on realistic depiction of Christian life in a movie, and if I have to be the first one to make a movie like that, then so be it!!!