Countdown: Jerusalem (2009)

Straight from the clearance bin at Blockbuster comes a little stinker about the biblical End Times. This is a product of Faith Films, which is a little-known division of The Asylum, legendary producers of unwatchable but profitable crap (such as). As the "Christian arm" of The Asylum's multi-tentacled empire of schlock, they have to do things a bit differently. For example, there will be no bouncing jiggly boobs, nor any exploding boobs, nor any aliens bursting out of boobs. What there are, however, are chastely covered boobs and lots of reminders that I really need to start going back to church.

Countdown: Jerusalem is, obviously, a rip-off of the LaHaye and Jenkins Left Behind mega-media-empire, which, apparently is quite popular with the Bible-thumping crowd. I'm not going to bore you with a lengthy, meandering, long-winded examination of the modern crop of biblical apocalypse films, mostly because I haven't seen any of them and can really offer no meaningful insights past what I can fake. I am judging this movie solely on its own (de)merits and nothing else, so don't email me scripture.

Anyway, our movie is set in the present day, in that sinful modern Sodom and Gomorrah of Los Angeles. On the eve of destruction we meet Allison, an investigative reporter (yawn) with cute blonde hair and a well-worn pilates mat. The actress playing Allison is actually the wife of The Asylum's owner so you just know she got to do a lot of her own script re-writes. She's a good actress, however, much better than the source material, and she's definitely easy on the eyes.

Allison (or maybe Darryl Hannah).

Since this is the Pre-Almost-Apocalypse stage, all sorts of bad stuff is going on. Earthquakes shake, tornadoes swirl, and hurricanes hurry to cane fields, all presaging terrible things from the final chapters of the Good Book. Don't expect much more than stock footage of Hurricane Andrew and lame Romanian temp worker CGI graphics, these people know where to spend their money and it isn't on special effects (it's on coffee and donuts for the crew...).


In all this mess, Allison's little fourth-grade daughter disappears without a trace under somewhat mysterious circumstances. She thinks it's her ex-husband, who has been acting all strange and moody lately, and that seems like a logical assumption to make. She goes to the LA police, but they can't help, not because they don't want to, but because they are kinda busy what with LA being the epicenter of the apocalypse and all. This is actually quite refreshing to see, as normally in movies (of all levels of crap) they'd immediately assign half the police force to help track this one lady's kid down, regardless of what else needs done (the level of police cooperation, of course, usually slides up or down depending on the physical attractiveness of the woman or if she's married to John McClane or not).

While she is indeed cute, I'd say the "Cutest Girl Around" is still Ann Curry.

Allison goes to her ex's house to find it empty and trashed. She does providentially find a hidden flash drive. She takes it to a nerdy friend, who just has to know everything about computers because she wears glasses. She discovers that her ex-husband recently went to Israel, and she suspects that he took her daughter with him. The flash drive also has a bunch of encrypted files on it they can't open.

Glasses chick is hot.

A random man breaks into her house that night (probably looking for the flash drive). Allison confronts him with a kitchen knife, and he seems pretty resigned to the end of the world. She lets him go after he confirms her ex-husband is in Israel, and by extension her daughter (though the man never actually says so).

Careful, you might cut yourself.

As the local fuzz is no help, Allison goes to an old friend in the CIA. You know, if Hollywood is right, then everyone in America has a friend who was once a CIA spook, or a Special Forces commando, or has their own helicopter, or some such rot. I might be the only person alive who doesn't, though I do know a guy in Alabama who once dated a girl who worked for the local CIA field office as a file clerk. Anyway, Allison's CIA guy doesn't know anything, but he helps her get on plane to Israel.

He's quite serious about his phone calls.

On the 747 over, she meets a brooding, hairy Israeli man named Itzahk who volunteers his fatalistic view of God and destiny (jeez, don't you hate getting stuck next to guys like that on long flights?). Right on cue, a super storm shakes the plane, causing Allison to question both her faith in a higher divinity and the structural engineering of the fine folks at Boeing Aerospace. The plane lands safely, however, as it would be a pretty short movie if you kill off your main character a quarter of the way into it.

Wow, pretty empty for a transatlantic flight.

To my considerable surprise, the production team actually flew a few crewmen and the lead actress to Tel Aviv for some exterior shooting (this is noteworthy as The Asylum's normal MO is to spend as little money as humanly possible on their movies). Allison goes to a hotel, tries to get some answers on her ex-hubby, but gets the runaround (it seems all Israelis are obstreperous agitators). A random guy meets her and wants to know if she has "the package" (the flash drive?). They walk through Jerusalem's Old City, a ramshackle collection of claustrophobic narrow alleys and ancient brick and mud buildings on the way to somewhere where the acoustics are better. He speaks of the "Watchers", a shadowy group of in-the-know people who eagerly await the End Times (jesuschristreallyyawn!).

Israel is overrun with cats!

Suddenly a Jewish temple nearby explodes in a terrorist attack! The guide is killed (his expository role was over and he was only on a one-day contract anyway) and Allison is wounded and ends up in a hospital. While in a coma, her daughter comes to her in dream, all fuzzy and gauzy and spookily silent. It's not really her daughter, of course, but surely God speaking to her in a "familiar form", just like the aliens spoke to Jodie Foster via her dad in Contact. Kinda nice to see this, as poor Allison has pretty much been roughed up all movie long and she needs a break.

A nice moment.

Allison then meets a long-haired, buff guy named Joseph, who says he was sent by her ex-husband to protect her (after first stopping at American Eagle to buy some trendy khaki shirts). It's never explicitly (or even implicitly) said that he's an angel and it's only his flowing Old Testament hair and the angelic way they backlight him in almost every scene that makes me think so.

Joseph, amen.

They head into the city, but along the way they get separated as they have to flee a police roadblock. Allison ends up wandering into the wilds of rural Israel, meeting local goat shepherds and skipping stones on the Red Sea. This interlude, one would assume, is Allison's "40 days in the wilderness", a Biblical spirit quest to enlightenment. God helpfully provides Allison with batteries for her hair straightener, which was nice of Him.

Return thee to Jerusalem.

After reconnecting, Joseph takes Allison to see the Watchers, who turn out to be just five people in an abandoned building with computers and cellphones and matching urban camo outfits. Idealistic Computer Hacker Guy tap-tap-taps the keyboard and breaks the encrypted code on Allison's flash drive in no time (movies make it seem so easy). Allison then realizes that the Watchers themselves blew up the temple to force the sheeple of Israel to see The Truth, and they are no better than the bad guys (whoever they are, the EU?).

The Watchers (snicker).

With bile and spittle, the Watchers talk of the oh-so cliched "New World Order", which is kidnapping Jews and tattooing numbers on them so they can't be buried in Jewish graves. Really? I am so flipping sick of the New World Order, just get over it people, you can't get world leaders to agree on how they want their fish cooked at summits, they are never, ever going to band together and rule the planet. Some faintly furry guy with an Italian accent named Romero is head of the EU and he's establishing the NWO, he's the clear Anti-Christ in our scenario.

Romaro (who knew Tony Shalub was the Anti-Christ?)

As Israel pulls out of peace talks with the EU, Romero rallies the world against them (under his Spooky Jedi Mind Powers, surely). Armies mass on their border and the prophesied Apocalypse is inevitable. All we get, however, is a couple stock footage clips of a Mervaka tank driving around some IDF training ground as ominous organ music drones on and on.

Merkavas look very sci-fi.

By now we've figured out that it's the oft-threatened/oftener-scoffed-at End of Days, as foretold in heady prose in the Book of Revelations. Why is it that we all assume that "our" time is the most important era, or what every line in the Bible is pointing to? Apocalypse cults for the last 2,000 years have thought the same. Why is 2011 any different from any other year? Why is our generation any different? Why do I care?

And why Jerusalem, why not Des Moines?

So Allison thinks her daughter is at this random warehouse on the outskirts of Jerusalem. She and Joseph go there, but they get involved in a riot and she gets captured and knocked unconscious. She wakes up alone in a windowless room (oddly, not with a concussion and internal brain bleeding from her knock-out blow to the head, oh how much tougher people in movies are than in real life...). Alone in her sorrow and with the world collapsing around her, Allison predictably finds religion, but also questions God's plan, which seems pretty screwed up. By now she realizes her daughter wasn't kidnapped, but was actually "raptured" (comeonseriously?).

Alone with her thoughts.

Slathering on the evangelical symbolism with a bilge mop, Joseph the Supposed Angel metaphorically and literally breaks her chains of bondage and releases her from her emotional/physical prison. They make their way to the edge of Jerusalem as Satan's armies invade. Don't expect much, just some badly rendered CGI helicopters and some digital explosions superimposed on landscape shots of Israeli cities, but it's a noble effort.

Helo gunships attack!

The ending is surprisingly low-key. The last act of this movie, which is normally the place for a big climatic action scene, ends up being pretty much a solitary examination of reborn faith. Allison "wakes up" in a field of flowers with her daughter, perhaps in Heaven, perhaps in Jerusalem, perhaps in Des Moines, and all seems to be peachy. Michael Bay would have had Jesus on a motorcycle fighting Satan with a machete while barrels of gasoline explode in the background. I weep for excess.

Still, fittingly bland.

The end.

Written in February 2011 by Nathan Decker.

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