The Kendrick Brothers were the face of Christian cinema for the better part of a decade. One of their most commercially successful films is Fireproof, a story of a firefighter fighting to save his marriage. Produced with a $500000 budget this film went on to gross $33 million at the box office before making even more in DVD sales. The sheer efficiency of this movie is impressive. Good movies on this low of budget need to rely on good story telling, but does Fireproof do this? Spoiler alert.
Our hero is Caleb, a beloved firefighter that can’t get any love at home. So he just spends his time wanking with his pants on in front of his computer. His wife, Catherine, works at a hospital to help pay the bills and then eats all the food in the house. The story begins with this married couple in a cycle of resentment spiraling towards divorce. Caleb’s father is the Friendly Old Guy in this Christian movie who, as a Christian, gives him a 40 day devotional to help his son save his marriage. Caleb puts in the minimal effort at first and gradually starts to care more and more. Catherine rebuffs his attempts to rekindle their relationship and pursues Handsome Doctor.
In order to love his wife, in spite of her persistent rejection, Caleb learns from Friendly Old Guy that he needs to learn what real love is and that love is Jesus. So Caleb becomes a Christian and finishes the rest of the 40 days. And his wife slowly realizes the frivolity of her attempts to cheat on her husband and she breaks down finally appreciating his efforts to love her. Then she becomes a Christian too. That’s it that’s the movie.
To be fair, I think the messaging of the movie received a lot of unfair criticism. The story is about a man pursuing a wife who no longer loves him, and this is used to draw a parallel to the gospel. At no point in the movie, until the end is the wife depicted in a positive light.
In fact, the most painful elements in this movie are the acting and the writing. With Star Wars there is a debate between whether Hayden Christenson was uniquely bad or whether the writing was the issue. And it’s clear that his acting performance was the outlier in the prequel trilogy. In Fireproof, Kirk Cameron can sometimes rise above a bad script, but in general his acting is only adequate in moments of high intensity or levity. There is no in-between and the small talk is especially forced. The female lead could never rise above a bad script except maybe in the most heated arguments. This is the worst lead performance I’ve seen thus far in my series of Christian film reviews.
And with the script, there is no delicate way to put this. It’s a whitewashed script trying to tell a gritty story which doesn’t work. It feels more edgy than a Hallmark movie, but that’s it. The script wants to address the damage that porn does to a marriage but uses cheesy euphemisms to clearly avoid saying the word except for one instance. The marriage arguments are amateur. Trust me on that one. And even Handsome Doctor is whitewashed despite being on the prowl for married women. This movie tries to incorporate divorce, adultery, and pornography, but all three of these things are addressed in a limp-wristed uptight fashion that feels sterile.
And so, Fireproof is the quintessential Christian movie, in both meeting the genre’s rigid expectations and all its shortcomings. And as for its standing in the Kendrick Brother’s catalog, I’d say this movie is better than War Room and Courageous.