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Fireproof

In the history of marital discord in the movies, has there ever been a blander conflict than the one between firefighter Kirk Cameron and his goodly wife Erin Bethea in the dismal Christian-themed melodrama Fireproof? Granted, not every couple can shout boozy insults like George and Martha in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, but one with real problems—be it adultery, poverty, substance abuse, value systems, whatever—should be a minimum requirement. Basically, the problem with Cameron and Bethea's marriage is that he's pissed off because his wife actually expects something from him, like extending a little kindness to her or washing a dish every once in awhile. He's like a gardener who never supplies a drop of water to a plant, then rages petulantly when the plant wilts. And when Cameron gets in a rage, out comes the baseball bat.

Fireproof gets hung up in a lot of Promise Keepers hoo-hah about reaffirming marriage as a covenant with God rather than a contract filed at City Hall, but that's just a cover for two fundamental points about the movie: Cameron acts like a childish jerk, even in the reconciliation phase, and the underlying reason is that he—and the movie—hates women. When he consults his father (Harris Malcom) and his mother (Phyllis Malcom) about his failing marriage, he gets so enraged by her attempt to give advice that he kicks her out of the room and consults his father directly. Dad advises him to hold off on the divorce and gives him a book called "The Love Dare," a 40-day, baby steps program to win back his wife. Small gestures, like holding his tongue when Bethea makes him angry or doing something nice for her, eventually give way to more grandiose gestures until he presumably weakens her defenses.

As in most Christian narratives, the hero starts out agnostic and winds up embracing the Lord with full-on born-again fervor, but the absence of God has no evident bearing on what's wrong with this marriage. Had the film not included sequences of Cameron saving people in the line of duty—an occupation that's useful in supplying many cheesy metaphors—he would come off as an irredeemable villain, quick to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. (A scene where he wallops his computer—source of his obsession with boats and Internet pornography—with a bat is a marvel of unintentional hilarity.) The best he can do on Day 40+ is bring his ailing wife a damp cloth and a bag full of Chik-Fil-A. What a catch!

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