I expected the worst from Randall Wallace’s Heaven Is for Real. I’ve seen enough (too many, in fact) treacly, whitewashed religious tracts masquerading as cinema. I mean, this is a movie based on the “true story” of a young boy by the name of Colton Burpo (newcomer Connor Corum) claiming to have seen heaven during an appendectomy. You pretty much know what you’re going to get, from the cheesy, family-friendly humor to the noxious, swelling, saccharine score that sweats out of the speakers.
Despite being awash in such expected gooeyness, imagine my shock to find a surprisingly even-handed, theologically inquisitive little movie. Heaven Is for Real is, for the most part, really about father and pastor Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear, in a solid, none-too-taxing performance) coming to grips with what he truly believes. As a man of faith, even he has trouble buying into this story that young Burpo visited heaven, and not because of Colton’s more fantasticated claims (like Jesus riding around heaven on a horse), but because — even to him — heaven is a far-fetched idea. This makes for a film that’s more measured and less preachy than most Christian cinema.
This is all wonderful and unexpected, and you might, at this point, be asking yourself why Heaven Is for Real received such a meager star rating. Well, that’s because it’s boring. In the end, there’s just nothing interesting about the Burpos — not their money problems, not Todd breaking his leg playing softball and certainly not Colton going to heaven, which we only sort of see with some bad green screen work. There’s never any doubt, in a film called Heaven Is for Real, which side of the argument Pastor Burpo is going to fall on, and there’s certainly no dramatic energy in the meantime. These are the lives of solidly middle class people, living in middle America, and they seemingly have little to do other than listen to kids talk about heaven. I’m obviously less gullible than Todd, who apparently buys Colton’s claims that equestrian Jesus — complete with feathered hair — looks like a Bee Gee. All this excitement just feels goofy and makes the characters look even sillier. The movie is just steeped in aw shucks sincerity, and it’s all the more boring for it. Rated PG thematic material including some medical situations.
Playing at Playing at Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grane, United Artists Beaucatcher.