God's ways are hard for us to penetrate, but who better to try than born-again former TV teen heartthrob Kirk Cameron? This is not a serious question, yet Cameron has gone ahead anyway with a serious new film, called Unstoppable and in theaters everywhere today, in which he wonders why his God allows and indeed sometimes seems deliberately to cause human suffering.
"This is the question that turns Christians into atheists," narrates the onetime Growing Pains star, an atheist who turned into a Christian. Looking well-kept and still boyish for his 42 years, Cameron the evangelist nonetheless has the glazed aura of all unfortunate child actors who later in life become addicted to something. Although somewhat expositionally challenged, his film's inquiry, such as it is, seems to flow from the death of someone Cameron felt close to. He does manage to remind us that he and his wife run a summer camp for terminally ill kids.
Cameron's narration extends enthusiastically to a few cheesy recreations of Biblical episodes. Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel all make appearances in Unstoppable, traipsing leadenly to a rawkin' soundtrack within preciously color-graded, shallow-focused slo-mo cinematography (sometimes in black-and-white for added gravity). Also there is some presumably real-life funeral attendance, where the prying camera invites us to peer into perfect strangers' open caskets and into their grief-stricken relatives' eyes. But the star of the show is Cameron himself, sipping his coffee, mulling it all over, circularly proselytizing. We know about vanity publishers. Is there such a thing as a vanity ministry?
Levity is attempted when he gets to the story of Noah's ark: "From a storytelling point of view, that is such a hard sell," Cameron says, going on to imagine himself presenting it to a conference table full of studio stiffs at a Hollywood pitch meeting. By now viewers surely will have overcome any confusion between this Unstoppable and the Tony Scott film of the same name about a wreck-destined runaway train.
"When you're standing in the midst of a crime scene, it's easy to notice and be shocked by bloodstains on the ground. But what should shock us even more," Cameron explains, "is the grace and patience and kindness of God." Well, if he says so. Cameron doesn't get into the doozie of God-WTFs, the Holocaust, perhaps because he already has established that atrocity's cause to be Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
Still, when it comes to seeming sometimes like a real dick, Kirk Cameron has nothing on God. It is true that Cameron once described homosexuality to Piers Morgan on CNN as destructive to the foundations of civilization. It is also true that a moment later, he added, "I need an overhaul of the heart more than anyone." Unstoppable suggests nothing if not a searching spirit; Cameron's sincerity is practically overwhelming. Honestly, it's hard not to hope he'll shock us in the end by concluding that his own grinning religiosity has been a bunch of horseshit after all, and the truth of the matter is that we live alone in a brutally indifferent universe, agonizing for no good reason, until we die.
But instead it's something about how God builds our confidence through trials. "God is good," Cameron's hour-long sermon concludes, "and we can trust him, and his purposes are unstoppable." So take it from the chastely wisecracking sitcom kid who's now all grown up: Hang in there with the suffering, because, well, what choice do you have?