The movie they wound up making was The Omega Code, a “thriller” starring Casper Van Dien, Michael York, and Catherine Oxenberg if you can believe it, with a plot that revolved around the real-life imaginary phenomenon of the Bible codes. It was directed by Robert Marcarelli, who cut his teeth making . . . “Biblical epics” like The Revolutionary, The Revolutionary II, and The Emissary (all of which can be seen at the multimedia theater in beautiful Christian City International in scenic southern California!), and written by Stephan Blinn and Hollis Barton, who between the two of them had never written anything.
The Omega Code actually cracked the U.S. box office top ten its opening weekend, grossing $2.3 million — good enough for the tenth spot. The Crouches reacted as though Jesus had risen from the grave, only for real this time. Even more impressive to them than taking the bottom spot in the box office top ten was the film’s impressive $7,744 per-screen average. To hear them tell it on TBN, the conquest of Hollywood was already complete. The Weinsteins had been converted, the MPAA ratings revamped to go straight from G to Illegal, and the gays had been driven into the sea.
To be fair, that is a pretty damn good per-screen average. The number’s misleading, though, since Omega Code was playing on just over 300 screens that weekend, meaning that the army of evangelicals who had been fucking dragooned by TBN for months to see the movie only had so many places to go. Their competitors that weekend — a few films you might have heard of, like Fight Club, The Sixth Sense, and American Beauty — were playing on thousands of screens each, meaning that people who went to the multiplex to see one of them probably had two or three different showings going on simultaneously to choose from, while Omega Code was only playing in the one theater booked by the manager to mollify the local church folk.
Still, I can only explain it away to a point. It’s impressive whenever any independent film makes the top ten, and even more so when it’s marketed exclusively at the sort of people who watch TBN for a reason other than to make fun of the old lady with the pink Dolly Parton wig. And remember, this was five years before Mel Gibson made The Passion of the Christ and blew the market for hard to understand Jesus-based fiction wide the fuck open. Why did so many people go to see The Omega Code?
It wasn’t because it was anything close to a good movie, I’ll tell you that much. Like most other Christian movies, this one seems to have been produced by people who have never, ever seen a movie, or even had a conversation. Casper Van Dien’s character is a motivational speaker we meet for the first time during his appearance on a television talk show. He vaults over the back of the couch, jumps up and points at the studio audience, and generally forecasts Tom Cruise’s infamous Oprah appearance. Since Cruise flipping out, it’s a bit easier to swallow, but in 1999 the world was a different place, and showing a character who was supposed to be an intelligent professional acting like that much of an over-enthusiastic peckerhead played a little false and desperate. Also, the writers don’t seem to understand how the Bible codes are supposed to work. It’s never explained how the computer that scans the Bible is able to find codes that predict future events — how does it know what to look for?
The plot involves conspiracies, chases, well telegraphed “shocking betrayals,” and villainous dialogue like “Don’t you remember? Satan always comes as an angel of light!” It suffers from an affliction typical to Christian fiction, which Ashley described perfectly after being forced to read The Blue Bottle Club for the library’s book club: “God answers everyone’s prayers, immediately.” I know that the makers of Omega Code were eager to push their religion on any non-Christian who might have unknowingly wandered into the theater, and so they felt motivated to make their God look a bit more proactive than he actually is. But there’s a scene in The Omega Code where Casper is surrounded by ghostly green CGI demons, about to be — I don’t know, eaten? — when he hits his knees, looks up beseechingly at God (actually the ceiling) and says, “Jesus save me.”
The green demons vanish. It’s not only unrealistic, it makes God look like kind of a dick, too, doesn’t it? You mean he’s just standing around watching this guy about to be dragged down to Hell, able to intervene at any moment, but he waits until demon bait asks him for help? What a douchebag. But that’s the Christian God for you. Sure, he could save your soul and make every day of your life on Earth a never-ending chorus of “I’m So Glad” — but you’ve got to ask him. And if you ask him and he still doesn’t help you, it’s still your fault somehow. This is what Christians refer to as “love.”
So the movie blows. Why the respectable week one grosses? Never underestimate the power of a cultishly devoted army of tightly permed old ladies. Add to their numbers all the feather-haired, Dockers-and-polo-shirt-wearing, soft-spoken, pleasantly bigoted young patriarchs who proudly herd their perpetually smiling wives and multiples of children into places like Gateway Ministries two or three times a week for “worship” and “fellowship,” and the numbers for Omega Code not only become less surprising, they look downright puny. “Why did so many people go to see The Omega Code?” is one question; “Why did so many goddamn more people go to see The Passion of the Christ?” is another one.
That’s an easy one, though. The Passion made more than Omega Code because it is a competently made film able to provoke emotional responses from its audience. I’m not even slightly Christian, and I thought it was a great movie. And let’s not forget how horrifically sadistic and cruel and violent it is. Christians complain about violence in films, but they also made The Passion one of the most successful films ever produced. It’s hypocritical, but it makes sense — their sacred text is one of the most blood-soaked books in all human history. If the Crouches had been a little smarter, they would’ve had God answer Casper’s prayer by passing him an AK-47 and sending him out against the forces of the antichrist with a “and don’t worry if a few hundred queers or Muslims happen to walk in front of the muzzle!”
They’d still be counting the money.