The End Is Near, and Mimi Rogers is ready to roll credits

November 22, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"The Rapture" gives you that old-time religion.It is, in mind-blowingly literal degrees, an account of the apocalypse and how it impacts Southern California. (For one thing, all the TCBY franchises close!) There appears not to be a trace of irony in its lugubrious recitation of sin, salvation and the true path to God.

Sharon (Mimi Rogers), when first we see her, is the Queen Hussy of the Southern California group-sex scene. This part of her life is as luridly imagined as any evocation of sin in Gustave Dore's haunting Old Testament illustrations.

But even as she's yielding entirely to the temptations of the flesh, Sharon's spirit has begun to yearn for nurture. In clumping and unconvincing ways, the movie puts her in touch with explorers on the far frontiers of faith until at last she experiences the rapture.

The what? The rapture, Jack. When the Big Guy moves in your body and takes command of your spirit, your knees go wooshy and your heart goes pittipat. It's almost like being in love.

Chastened and changed, Rogers gives up her wild ways, settles down with a partner in monogamy and takes up the Christian Lifestyle, until, as a subtitle loudly proclaims, "Six Years Later."

Now, a pert middle-class housewife with a pretty little girl and a much-adored hubby, she's ripe for the next move up the spiritual ladder. In extreme grief after her husband is slain (in a poorly contrived mass murder that comes from nowhere), she again thinks the Lord is talking to her and goes to the desert with her daughter, awaiting the arrival of Judgment Day.

By now you think you've got it: The movie is an examination of the pathology of extreme belief and it will chronicle how commitment carried to extremes produces not extreme commitment but extreme madness. And when, on a whim of spiritual hubris, she executes her own daughter -- to send her to heaven and be with Daddy -- the movie feels both horrifying and authentic.

But guess again. "The Rapture" is in some secret sense too hip to offer up conventional agnostic pieties on the danger of faith. Its punch line is a zinger: Judgment Day does come, quite literally. We're talking horsemen of the apocalypse, a black sky, storm clouds, dust columns, the bars dropping out of prisons.

I wish the producers had had a zillion-dollar budget: Judgment Day as spectacle might have been a hoot, as opposed to this impressionistic and somewhat low-key version. You want to visit Europe on a shoestring, not the end of the world.

But as a movie "The Rapture" isn't much; it has the smirky self-assurance of something conceived primarily as a document

of provocation rather than passion.

'The Rapture'

Starring Mimi Rogers.

Directed by Michael Tolkin.

Released by Fine Line.

Rated R.

... **

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