Earlier today, I took my wife to see Fireproof, a movie produced with an explicitly Christian message about marriage and faith.  Kirk Cameron has focused more on Christian evangelization than on his film career, but does both as a self-centered firefighter with a marriage on the rocks. Our big question: can a theatrical film succeed in delivering a message while still entertaining its audience?

The story behind the film is certainly intriguing.  Fireproof was produced by Sherwood Baptist Church in Georgia, which used volunteers in most of the behind-the-scenes work.  With the exception of an eight-person team of professional filmmakers, most of the effort came from volunteers.  That would normally set expectations much closer to Plan 9 From Outer Space than Citizen Kane.

Surprisingly, the film was technically competent.  It may have had a Lifetime Movie of the Week feel, especially in the first half of the movie, but audiences won’t find anything distracting as they did with Thèrese.  The Lifetime feel includes some of the dialogue and dramatic staging, especially in the first half.  The conversations feel forced, and with some of the interactions with the supporting characters, gets formulaic and artificial.

However, Fireproof improves, especially in the second half, as the story focuses more on Cameron and Erin Bethea.  The Holts are heading to a divorce, mostly through the destructive actions of Caleb (Cameron), a firefighter who pays more attention to his computer than his wife.  She feels rejected as he spends his days looking at Internet porn and saving his money for a boat.  They’re more roommates than a marriage, arguing over who has to pay for what.  She’s starting to become more receptive to flirting from a young doctor where she works.  Until Caleb’s father intervenes, the only question is whether the lawyers will get rich off the split.

In the end, the movie works because of Cameron and Bethea.  Audiences will connect with both, and Cameron especially gives a good performance as he eventually discovers how destructive he has been.  Those who have been through rockiness in their own marriages will recognize the struggles, the lost trust, and the difficult recovery in their relationships.

The movie relies heavily on Christian themes.  Those who feel uncomfortable with explicitly religious messages will not enjoy Fireproof.  It’s not going to win any Academy Awards, either, but it’s not bad at all, and better than a lot of what appears in the cinema.  Those who want to see theaters featuring Christian values and uplifting stories of faith, forgiveness, and love should support Fireproof before it disappears from the big screen.