What I Was Expecting
I had the vague understanding that Revelation Road was a Christploitation movie, and in that context, "revelation" really only has one meaning. So, I'm assuming this is a movie about the end of the world.
My experience with Christian films is limited and, to this point, painful. The last time I tried watching one of these, I wound up with such a bad taste in my mouth that I ended up getting angrier at a movie than I have in years. So my expectations are low. I'm kinda just thinking it'll be a dumb movie about Jesus fans who are stuck on an empty road moping about the Apocalypse.
But I try not to be narrow-minded. I'm up for any kind of movie. (Unless it has eye-gouging. There's some things I just can't stomach.) So I figured, why not give this one a try? What's the worst that can happen?
The Plot Summary
The movie opens with what appear to be a couple of random tangential characters sitting down to have dinner, and in a combination voice-over / flashback, they tell the story of Josh McManus, our protagonist. I'm assuming this is the movie's way of recapping the first one.
Josh McManus appears to be a bulletproof vest salesman or something. While stopping in at a gas station in the middle of the desert on one of his many prolonged sales trips, he unexpectedly becomes witness to an armed robbery when a few motorcycle gang members come in brandishing weapons. Out of nowhere, McManus Jason Bournes them to death, which seems to be a surprise to him since he's just your average, everyday bulletproof vest salesman.
The shopkeeper thanks McManus for his heroism. Then the Rapture happens.
Even though every other character in the movie appears to be a hardcore Christian, they all have a hard time grasping that the Rapture has, in fact, occurred. The sudden disappearance of many millions of people around the world has thrown society into a panic, but only a small handful of the believers actually put forth the hypothesis that God did it.
(As an aside - I could understand why people wouldn't jump to that conclusion if people just disappeared without any spectacle, but that's not what we see. People actually turn into balls of white light, say something like, "I feel His love!", and then float up into the sky. If you're already a Christian, why wouldn't you jump to God first?)
Anyway, McManus is stuck out in the middle of the desert and is trying to figure out what just happened when he remembers that he has a wife and daughter back in The City. So he starts driving back to them to make sure they're okay.
By the way, this is where the plot recap ends, so you can stop caring about those folks having dinner now. They will be of no major importance moving forward.
The movie picks up with McManus driving back home. Unfortunately, there's a problem - other than the Apocalypse, I mean. Hawg, the leader of the biker gang whose members were killed, has vowed to exact vengeance on his brothers' deaths, so he begins a bloodthirsty chase through the desert to catch McManus and bludgeon him to death.
Now's a good time to mention that Hawg has an honest-to-God war hammer that he rides around with on his motorcycle. There's even a flashback sequence later in the movie where you get to see him handcraft it in a fit of passion while mourning his wife's death.
Hawg's daughter, Cat, is feeling conflicted with her father. See, a few years back, Cat's mom became a born-again Christian and wanted Hawg to lead the biker gang down a path of virtue and not-law-breaking. She also tried to patch up her broken relationship with Cat. Right around the same time, one of Hawg's bikers was plotting to betray them and killed Cat's mom when she found out. Ever since, Cat has been torn between her faith, a feeling of responsibility to her mom's wishes for them to be better Christians, and her loyalty to Hawg, who has become more and more hotheaded over time.
Fast forward again to the present. Hawg and McManus cross paths a few times and get into a couple of car chases. These chase scenes and various flashbacks to Hawg's checkered past make up the majority of the movie's run-time.
Eventually Hawg plans an ambush: Cat will limp along the road and pretend to be an injured woman in need, thus drawing McManus into the open, and then they'll kill him. But when McManus pulls up and offers help, Cat decides to run away with him. At the same time, McManus's sidekick is mortally wounded and she dies.
(Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention McManus's sidekick. Pretty much all you need to know about her is that she exists, and then she dies in this scene. Literally the only reason she exists in the movie is to die. As in, Jesus came to her and told her she had to die. I am not making this up.)
The death of McManus's sidekick shocks him so much that he decides to stop running from Hawg and take him head-on. They get into a motorcycle vs. car duel and then a fist fight. McManus gets the upper hand, and then he sees a cross around Hawg's neck. Hawg, Cat, and McManus all stop to reflect on what that means, and they decide to part ways in peace.
McManus makes it home and finds out that his family was Raptured. Now that he's alone on Earth and he's reaffirmed his faith in God, he decides to go wandering to spread a message of faith and peace.
Oh, shit, I forgot to mention the part where McManus was the subject of a top secret government project to turn him into an emotionless uber-soldier. That happens.
What I Liked
I have a confession: I kinda liked this movie.
I was really expecting to hate it after the debacle that was WWJD II. Admittedly, part of this dread was founded in it being a religious movie, and I'm not exactly a religious person. But where WWJD II turned faith into a robotic function that only the oblivious could entertain, Revelation Road crafted an actual story out of a world where the more fantastical elements of Christianity are rendered factual. It's a lot easier to buy into the characters' faith when they are literally contemplating God's work.
This probably sounds like a snotty thing to say, but I'm not trying to be condescending. I just mean that Revelation Road is a world where God has actually come down to Earth and taken millions of people away to Heaven, and the people who witnessed this are still having doubts about what they've seen because having doubts is what human beings do. Contrast this with WWJD II, where people think they can fix a deeply broken marriage simply by praying.
But more importantly: it actually has a story to tell and not just a sermon. There are characters and a plot and a conflict and rising tension and some action scenes that are actually done reasonably well. Plus, it's got a biker with a war hammer.
I also enjoyed how batshit nuts the movie got. It takes it from "huh, this isn't too bad" territory to "holy shit, I want to see what happens next" territory. It's not that it's a laughably bad movie - it's just that you could easily watch this with some friends and a couple of beers and appreciate the sheer audacity of the plot twists.
There's so much stuff that happens that I barely even touched on in my plot recap, and it's all dropped into the movie while keeping a straight face. Hell, McManus's bulletproof vest serves as a symbol of false faith, and I can't even begin to tell you how many far-fetched things have to happen in the movie for that reveal to come about.
Maybe it's just that my expectations for Christian films are so low, but I was amazed at the quality of filmmaking on display here. The music, the acting, the cinematography, the choreography, the effects - it was all really overblown and kinda campy at times, but it was actually good. Or at least competent. I think I was expecting a clueless priest and his buddies from the VFW to make a cheesy after school special, but what I got was an actual movie.
What I Didn't Like
If I wanted to see something serious, I'd complain about how ridiculous the plot developments are. And if I wanted to just be an asshole, I'd complain about the religiosity of it. But honestly, I'm having a hard time saying that there's anything about this that I think was truly terrible.
You realize I'm saying this with the understanding that it is, at the end of the day, a Christian film. I have to accept that it's going to be of a certain production value and of a certain socio-political / philosophical mindset. Knowing that those come with the territory, I would say this is about as good as I would expect a Christian action movie about the Apocalypse to be.
Although, there was one part I could've done without....
McManus's sidekick is pretty annoying. Aside from the fact that she just doesn't really do a whole lot, she manages to contort her face into the most punchable expressions possible at any given moment.
Would I Recommend It?
Yeah, I think so. Upon further Googling, it appears there are three of these, and I'm halfway tempted to do a full on marathon.
What I Think the Prequel Was About
I have to assume it involves the events we saw in the opening flashback scenes, but I'm a little confused about what the overall conflict would have been since not that much happened.
So, I'm going to guess the first one was mainly just about how McManus got from the shop where he killed the bikers to the hotel room where he wakes up at the beginning of the movie. I'm going to assume the shop and the hotel are a couple hundred miles apart and McManus tangled with an unrelated biker gang along the way.
My Pitch for Another One
This one was kinda like a Christ-themed The Road Warrior. Can you guys do a Christ-themed Beyond Thunderdome?