Take a Drink: every time the last name of the main characters, “Piper”, is spoken.
Take a Drink: for shots of someone praying.
Do a Shot: for McDonalds!
Do a Shot: whenever Hayden Christensen’s faux-Texan voice jumps a fence to the Canadian Border…
By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Five Beers) –
Don Piper (Hayden Christensen) was a minister for the South Park Baptist Church in Texas, a dedicated worker who was pondering starting a new parish when he was pronounced dead at the scene of a car crash. 90 minutes later, while being prayed over by another minister, he woke up, and after many months of reconstructive surgery and rehabilitation, went back to work preaching, eventually writing a book on the subject that sold millions of copies. This 2015 movie chronicles his accident, and recovery, as well as tells of his spiritual struggles which arose from the incident. Piper maintains that in the 90 minutes that he was dead, he saw Heaven, and the film describes this in detail… wait for it…
So, here’s the thing; I take no issue with the fact that Don Piper says he saw Heaven. It neither hurts me, nor hampers anyone of any faith. I do believe there are any number of scientific explanations for the vision that Mr. Piper saw, but I want to make it clear that I am not reviewing this film on the terms of a non-believer, but as a filmgoer who was left unsatisfied. These Faith-Based films which have come out in increasing numbers theatrically the last 5 or so years are like Burger King Tacos…
The film is made in earnest, with the principal cast clearly wanting to send a positive message to viewers. For the most part, the film succeeds in that regard, as the film’s message is ultimately about positively overcoming personal tragedy, and carrying on with life. Thankfully, the film’s most effective scene does come at the end, where Piper has a conversation with a teenager who is suffering a similar injury as one he suffered (although this scene is somewhat hampered by the clueless extras in the background).
The chief problem with 90 Minutes in Heaven is in pacing. The film clocks in at just over 2 hours long and feels every minute because of the desperately linear way it is told, with each painstaking detail meted out in a coldly clinical fashion. Director Michael Polish and editor Cary Gries seem to have forgotten that the editing process exists to create a dynamic narrative, one which can heighten emotion if properly employed.
Following the accident, the film is a series of scenes of people talking to Piper as he depressively avoids speaking to them. This makes up easily half the film’s run-time, and could have been condensed considerably. The result is the audience loses their empathy for Piper, as he acts sad for seemingly no reason. Depression after a trauma is a real thing, of course, but the filmmakers could easily have put together a more interesting way to present these themes. The film’s great “reveal” that he saw Heaven is spoiled by the title, and again early on in the film’s prologue. The way it is presented, Don’s frustration is at not being allowed to stay in Heaven, and his wish to be taken back feels selfish. Particularly since Heaven in the world of this film is a big family reunion.
The film’s dialogue feels like it was stolen straight from a daytime soap opera. Not sure if that is to blame more on the screenwriter or the book the film is based on, but the sentiment is the same. Not that a level of stylization is always necessarily a problem in this sort of Biopic. Any film which reflects on events of the past will inevitably carry that weight. But taken out of context of the actual person speaking the words, the numerous stitched-together scenes of people confronting Don about his depression have a quality of sameness. You never get the feeling that Don’s friends and family are human beings. Only Kate Bosworth and Hayden Christiansen manage anything resembling character structure, and that seems to be just based on the volume of screen-time rather than actual performance.
No less than three entire scenes in this film take place at McDonalds. Now, I like me some gut-bomb-tastic garbage food as much as the next guy. But product placement is like a child in a movie theater; best seen, but not heard.
Hayden Christiansen is an actor who is still trying to live down his career-defining role as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode II & III, for which his performance is so often maligned by critics and fanboys. So much so that he took several years off from feature film acting between 2010 and 2014. Sadly, this film does not make any new arguments towards his acting ability either. I don’t want to put all the blame on him, as the dialogue in this film is certainly no less awkward than that of scripts penned by George Lucas. I will say that his attempts at a Southern accent do him no favors (he regularly slips back into his Canadian accent). His line delivery rarely convinces, and no amount of epic porn-staches can compensate for that.
Far from the worst offender in the Christianity-Exploitation genre, 90 Minutes in Heaven is exactly the kind of mediocrity that is neither deficient enough to mock, or good enough to derive a modicum of enjoyment.