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Whether or not you consider yourself a religious person, you've probably heard of the book Heaven Is For Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip To Heaven and Back. It recounts the tale of four-year-old Nebraskan Colton Burpo, who bewildered his parents when he told them he had visited with departed loved ones and Jesus in heaven. Colton's father, Christian pastor Todd Burpo, translated this into a book with the help of journalist Lynn Vincent. The resulting bestseller is the basis for the Greg Kinnear vehicle above, which has him playing the part of Pastor Burpo.
In 2003, Colton was a chipper toddler when he was abruptly laid low by appendicitis and rushed into emergency surgery. Some counted his survival as a miracle. But following this brush with death, Colton began to share strange stories with his parents. As you can see in the trailer up top, Colton claimed to have talked to a daughter his mother miscarried. In heaven, he tells her, she was a little girl. Similarly transformed to the picture of health and youth is Colton's great grandfather, who died when his own father was just a boy. But as his story begins to get out in the world, his family's friends and neighbors begin to grow unhappy with the attention Colton's account attracts.
Colton's is an interesting story on which to base a movie. It's just a shame that the results look so underwhelming and schmaltzy. Nearly everything about this production suggests its low-budget, from its screenwriter Chris Parker, whose previous credits include the Eddie Murphy comedy Vampire in Brooklyn and the Chris Brown dance drama Battle of the Year, to its biggest star being Kinnear, and the final look that far closer resembles a TV movie than a theatrical release. But even this could have been saved if director Randal Wallace injected some spirit into the proceedings. Unfortunately, the helmer of such docudramas as the Vietnam War pic We Were Soldiers and the stallion-centered Secretariat seems to content to give the film a dedicatedly earnest and solemn tone, while handing over much of its heavy-lifting drama-wise to tiny newcomer Connor Corum as Colton.
I wonder why filmmakers of faith-based features don't often seem to bother to make something as extraordinary to look at as their subject matter is to consider. Perhaps the assumption is the subject matter alone will bring in those niche demographics thirsty for such subject matter in movies, and so there's no need to go the extra mile to make it great cinema as well. Unless, I guess you're telling a story as epic as Noah's.
For more on Colton's story, check out this clip from Today.
Heaven Is For Real opens on April 16th, 2014.