Ben (Kevin Sorbo) and Wendy (Kristy Swanson) are at the bus stop saying their tearful goodbyes, with Ben about to get on the bus to do some kind of ministry or something for eight months if I’m not mistaken, promising the woman he loves that he will come back. Wendy doesn’t want him to go, knowing full well the evil lures that are present in the big city, but Ben assures her everything will be okay. Ben was totally lying about that. Okay, maybe he wasn’t lying at the time and maybe he actually thought he was coming back home in eight months, but the next time we see Ben it’s fifteen years later, he’s a big time executive, he’s pockets his are swollen, his secretary is sizzling, his girlfriend is hot… admittedly not as hot as the one he Left Behind, but that’s neither here nor there… and he’s about to become partner and roll Benzo. Life is good for Ben Walker. But what if he didn’t leave Wendy all those years ago? That’s the question that will be answered for Ben Walker in director Dallas Jenkins’ Christian drama ‘What If…’
About that Benzo that Ben just purchased. Dang if this brand new car doesn’t break down and requires the help of a wrecker named Mike (John Ratzenberger) who by chance happens to also be an angel sent by God. Seems God has determined that Ben needs to find out what life would’ve been like had he stayed with Wendy those years ago, and while Ben refuses to do this… one solid right cross later from an angel sent by God, Ben Walker’s current life is completely different from the one he knew.
Same fifteen years have passed, but now Ben is married to Wendy. They have two kids in the challenging teenager Kimberly (Debbie Ryan) and the precocious six year old Megan (Taylor Groothuis). The Benz has been replaced by a mini-van, the fat executive bank account has been replaced by a wallet with about sixty bucks in it, and most perplexing is that he is now the new Pastor of the small town church he left behind all those years ago. In fact when Ben starts his new / old life, it’s Sunday and it’s time for the new Pastor to give his first sermon. Ben apparently hasn’t picked up a Bible in an awful long time. Worst Sermon Ever.
Wendy knows something isn’t quite right with her husband, and Ben tries to tell her that something is that he’s not her husband, nor the father of her children, but that doesn’t go over too well. Ben even tries to go back to the city to reclaim his rightful position, but that goes over even worse. Mike the Angel informs Ben that he’s going to have to give this thing a try if he wants to get out of it, so Ben decides to go all in. Give it a try, get it over with, go back to his Benz.
Is that what happens? You know it doesn’t. Turns out Wendy was a pretty awesome woman. What kind of idiot would leave that behind? And that’s not a literal Spinal Tap reference either. Those two kids? Man, they are great… when they’re not driving you crazy as kids tend to do. And who knew that serving the Lord and saving souls could be more fulfilling than closing deals and padding your bank account? Who knew? This is the life for Ben… until… of course… the experiment runs its course. Seriously God? Seriously? This is how you’re gonna do my man? Can Ben find a way to get his life back? The one he so callously threw away?
As many have already pointed out, ‘What If…’ shares similar DNA to the Nick Cage joint from a few years back ‘Family Man’, almost to the point that it’s a remake, but with with more of a Christian focus. I haven’t seen ‘Family Man’ in over a decade, but I do remember enjoying it, just like I enjoyed ‘What If…’, and since so much time has passed I didn’t have the one movie overriding my thoughts of the other.
No doubt the movie follows a completely predictable story arc, it’s heavy handed, it’s manipulative, but it’s not like we didn’t expect these things going into this decidedly Christian based film. It helps that Kevin Sorbo was as good as this in just about anything we’ve seen him post Hercules, though the truth of the matter was that his pre-awakened version of Ben Walker really wasn’t that bad of guy. Of course we know that you could be the greatest guy in the world, but without Jesus Christ in your life you have nothing coming your way as far as eternal salvation is concerned, which could’ve been the point of Ben’s Executive character, but it probably would’ve helped sell his previous situation a bit more if he was more of a jerk.
The performances were fine all around from the solid cast with Kristy Swanson coming off as pitch perfect in her role of the sweet girl that got left behind, John Ratzenberger appropriately gruff with the heart of gold as Mike the Angel, and the young ladies playing the children were effective. Even the ending, which is about as heavy handed as it gets when it comes to movie emotion, was still very effective and it played out very well, if not completely expected.
‘What If…’ is a spiritual film so attacking it for being a spiritual film is a little silly. Attacking it for being heavy handed, manipulative, predictable and lacking originality is something we can’t really argue against, but it was still effective at what it set out to do, and it’s always refreshing to see some legitimately safe and honest family styled entertainment.