You have to admire writer/director Tim Chey (The Genius Club, Fakin’ Da Funk), in a way. It’s not often that you watch a film slack-jawed in disbelief throughout the entirety of its runtime, asking yourself, “How did this even get made?” So when you do find a gem like this, you have to have some respect for the people who put it together because there’s no way that they were unaware of the train wreck they were building from the ground up. Yet, for whatever reason – fear of having wasted time and money, stupid pride, lowered expectations from the target audience – the movie gets made and released anyway. The result is Suing the Devil, representing the absolute dregs of Christian cinema. You might go in expecting something bad, but trust me: you have no idea.
The movie stars first-time actor Bart Bronson as Luke O’Brien, a salesman who attends “THE Billy Simon Night Law School” part-time in Sydney, Australia. After his mother is killed by a drunk driver, Luke begins to question why Satan is allowed to get away with so much badness in this world. We see scenes of Luke with his wife Gwen (Shannen Fields, Facing the Giants) at home, watching reports on television about the homicides constantly taking place throughout the country. Luke yells at a woman on the phone about his identity being stolen, “Some human garbage has stolen my money!” Meanwhile, Gwen coughs ominously in the background as though she might have some kind of disease that hasn’t yet been explained. Bronson and Fields are a perfect couple, as his extreme over-acting complements perfectly her complete inability to act. At this point in the movie, the scene fades out like Vigo the Carpathian… to the exact same shot of the two actors in their kitchen. This is something that happens often throughout the film. It’s kind of incredible.
Luke makes the decision to kill his mother’s accidental murderer, but when he arrives at the victim’s house realizes he’s forgotten to put bullets in his gun. D’oh! He returns home sullenly, only to see a televangelist declaring that Satan is real and you should call the number on your screen to buy your salvation now. At the end of this commercial, he stops talking and stares straight ahead with dead eyes for three seconds before the shot cuts to Luke’s face – it is very creepy. But now Luke knows what he has to do: he’s going to sue the devil! So the next day, he announces his intentions and the case gets taken all the way to the International Court of Human Rights. Because, obviously, frivolous attention-seeking lawsuits are exactly what the International Court of Human Rights exists for. Luke tries to rationalize this insanity by noting that, “Satan has violated every human right known to man!” He also calls on Section 10-3 of the International Civil Liberty Suit, otherwise known as the “I Just Made This Up” Clause, to prove that Satan is a viable defendant. He smirks smugly at this, saying in voice-over that he knew the judge would throw the case out, but “I just wanted to vent my frustration at Satan.” What better place to take symbolic action to avenge personal irritation than in the International Court of Human Rights?
The judge is just about to dismiss the case “on a technicality”, as all judges have the ability to just declare that technicalities exist and refuse to hear cases at will, but things get flip turned upside down when Satan (Malcolm McDowell, Caligula) actually shows up to defend himself, complete with sleazy rock guitar playing on the soundtrack. When the judge asks the man if he can prove that he is Satan, he approaches the bench and snarls, “Can you prove that I’m not?” Man, he’s really got her there: the burden of proof never lies with the person making a claim. It’s the same reason I can say that there’s an elephant in the room you’re in right now and you have to believe that it’s true until you can prove that it’s not. Oh, and it’s an invisible elephant. So the trial is going forward. Satan gives Luke a burning business card (because it’s from Hell, where there’s fire, you see); before the scene ends, the sleazy ‘Satan’s theme’ stops abruptly as Bronson awkwardly yells, “Nice magic trick, dude!”
As you might imagine, news of this landmark case garners major attention. Luke gets a million requests for interviews, and his house is surrounded by papparazzi – almost half a dozen people! A television news anchor describes the trial, noting that it’s “another weird day at the city courthouse.” It’s a sad state of affairs when the city courthouse is the International Court of Human Rights. In any case, a jury is selected by random computer selection – as you do in cases of human rights abuses. It doesn’t matter if you’re being put on trial for violating the Geneva Convention, a jury of local townspeople gets to decide whether what you did was really torture.
Both Satan and Luke gear up for the trial – Satan by meeting a cadre of the best trial lawyers in the world, Luke by begging girls to help him out. Satan shares an uncomfortable, improvised quip with each of his lawyers (with names like “Mr. Ice”, “Mr. Thinktank”, “Mr. Innocent”, etc). One of the lawyers tells the devil that it’s a stupid lawsuit and that they’re going to win. McDowell smiles giddily. “Alright: stupid, win. I like it.” When they’re done being introduced, Mr. Ice asks what information they have on Luke O’Brien and is told not to worry about it. As the best trial lawyers in the world know, you definitely don’t want to prepare at all before you go to court. Meanwhile, Luke manages to convince a girlawyer (a lawyer who is a lady) named Sid to help him out, though not without some hesitation. “You know what God doesn’t like for breakfast?” she asks him. “Flakes and nuts, and you are a nut!” When the agreement has been made, the two shake hands for an uncomfortable amount of time until the scene eventually changes.
Now the trial begins, and this is where it crosses into total lunacy. The judge says that the trial must commence since neither party chose to settle. I admit, I’m not well versed in the law (yet), but is one generally encouraged to settle human rights abuses out of court? In their opening statements, Luke calls Satan evil – to which the devil’s lawyers rightfully object and are summarily overruled. Yet when the devil’s counsel calls the lawsuit ‘hare-brained’, the judge scolds him for using personal attacks. Hmm, you don’t suppose this judge is biased, do you? Later in the show, Luke tries to prove a point by turning to the Bible. The devil’s lawyer objects that the Bible is not admissable as evidence as it is a book of fairy tales. Over-ruled by the judge, of course, adding: “Your comment about the Bible is erroneous. Do you have any factual proof for your ‘fairy tale’ claim?” Can you prove that an anthropomorphic egg didn’t fall off of a wall? Then we have to believe it’s 100% true until you can prove otherwise!
Luke, for his part, calls a representative of an oil company to testify. Why? “Think, man, think! Oil company. Satan. Evil!” He begins berating him for oil prices being too high, asking why he doesn’t just lower the price of petrol. The devil’s lawyers question the purpose of this, but again are overruled. Our man Luke gets the oil baron to admit that he wants to make a profit on the oil. Luke announces that he’s just proved that love of money really is the root of all evil. But wait, weren’t you supposed to prove that Satan is the root of all evil? If this wasn’t a movie written by Tim Chey, the characters might not all be total idiots, and might have caught this. As it stands, they let it slide and a talk show called “You Decide the Verdict of This Human Rights Abuse Case” cuts in to comment on the action, declaring that Luke looks like an idiot one moment and a genius the next. That last part is
questionable laughable. Satan turns to his counsel and sneers, “You better bring him down in the next round, or else!” Tell me again, how many rounds are there in an international human rights abuse case? Did Tim Chey really write a courtroom drama without knowing anything about the law? I’m surprised he didn’t have the devil call them “innings”. In a weird subplot, one of the participants of the talk show suddenly declares that he’s met Satan and the devil is not McDowell. There’s a moment of silence while everybody looks around confusedly, then the host throws it back to the courtroom. This outburst is never expanded upon.
Now Sid calls Satan to the stand and tries to corner him with the story of Job, noting that the devil was responsible for this man’s suffering (and conveniently ignoring the corresponding truth that in the story, God condones this torture). “You are responsible for at least one person’s suffering,” she argues, “so why couldn’t you be responsible for the rest of the world’s suffering, too?” This is possibly the stupidest line spoken in the entire film. Try to apply that logic to any other situation at all. You ate a bagel for breakfast this morning, so couldn’t you have eaten every bagel in the world this morning? Instead of pointing out that Sid should be disbarred for being a moron, Satan instead asks her why God isn’t on trial, given that he’s all-powerful and doesn’t stop evil. Her response is typical: “He gave everyone free will.” I take back what I said before: this is the stupidest line spoken in the film. A woman in Bangladesh is tied to a banana tree, burned with cigarettes and gang-raped for months, then shot and left for dead… and God sits back and lets it all happen because he don’t mess with free will? It seems like you’d have to have some kind of brain damage to find that logic sensible, yet it’s spouted off again and again in practically every Christian film. Because in every Christian film, this question gets raised again: why does an all-powerful, all-good god allow people to suffer?
I’m sorry, I was accidentally taking Suing the Devil seriously there for a moment. I feel so foolish. I was seriously arguing with a movie that has a woman playing a stenographer in the background, clearly just wagging her fingers in mid-air. This is the level of competence we’re working with here. One of the devil’s lawyers is questioning Luke on the stand and begins touching his shoulder. Luke moves away from him and the judge asks that he refrain from touching the witness. “I’m sorry your honor,” the man replies humbly, “He just reminds me of my son.” WHAT? How on earth… why is this a line that was included in the movie? What is its purpose? There’s a quick scene of Luke dropping a bunch of papers on his way to the courthouse before the closing arguments: again, why? The film makes less and less sense as it progresses. At one point, the head of Satan’s team of lawyers objects to his own partner’s line of questioning, then berates him in front of the entire courtroom and fires him. When he returns to his seat next to the devil, Satan smiles. “Nice trick,” he says. Trick? What trick? As far as I can tell, your lawyer just made your entire defense look like they have no idea what they are doing.
Meanwhile, Luke gets his mojo back after talking to Gwen outside. In her trade-marked Southern wail, Shannen Fields asserts: “Satan doesn’t care about those who are too busy for God; he only cares about those who are too busy for Satan.” Does this mean anything at all, or is it complete gibberish? Whatever the case, it renews Luke’s resolve to defeat the devil in court and allows him to easily evade further questions about why God isn’t the one on trial. “I’ve killed 10 people – Job’s family,” the devil admits, “but how many people has God killed? Some estimates from the Flood put it at over 100 million.” My sources say 25 million, but the point remains. Luke and the movie both ignore this entirely, which I cannot understand. I mean, Tim, you wrote the movie. You don’t have to include anything that you don’t want to. You could have edited out the scene where the judge drops her gavel off the bench, for instance, and if you don’t have a response to God’s homicide then you don’t have to keep it in the finished film either! That’s the beauty of straw men, they do and say whatever you want – whatever makes your job (defending Christianity) easier.
I know I’ve written a lot of about this movie, but I promise you that I haven’t told you about any of the multiple amazing twists. Let me just say two words and leave it at that: internet porn. Shannen Fields, who is literally the worst actress ever, gets several more half-sobbed lines toward the end of the film and believe me, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard her wail in utter confusion, “The library?” or “I thought you were gonna go kill the guy that killed your mom!” (Luke’s response? “I’m gonna be honest with you, I was going to do that.”) For you fans of Facing the Giants, there’s even a leftover line she brought with her to Australia: “You win it! You hear me, I want you to win it!” I just kept waiting for her to announce that Luke had officially joined the Daddy Team.
Suing the Devil isn’t offensive in its message, but rather in its content. It’s filled with gaffes, terrible acting, incomprehensible asides, a genuine lack of understanding about how the legal system works and a shamelessly stale last-act twist. I love the movie because it is unintentionally hilarious, but there is no other way to defend this film. Is it fair to call this movie a monument to incompetence?