The Rapture

Mimi Rogers plays an L.A. information operator named Sharon, who overcompensates for her dull day job by nightcrawling with her friend Vic (Patrick Bauchau) to pick up couples for group sex. You won't hear an operator ask, "Business or residence?" again without remembering Sharon. But just when you think you've got the title figured, writer Michael Tolkin (Gleaming the Cube) — in his directing debut — redefines rapture. Sharon doesn't find the ultimate kink; she finds God.

It's so unusual for an American film to deal seriously with religion that Tolkin — whose memorably vivid Hollywood novel The Player was just filmed by Robert Altman — earns points simply for trying. The film's title refers to the fundamentalist Christian doctrine that believers will be taken into heaven before Armageddon. Such seeming fanaticism is easy to laugh off. And Tolkin's film is most incisive when it shames those cynical assumptions. The hollowness of Sharon's life is so well represented that our curiosity is piqued along with hers when she overhears coworkers talking about their dreams of God. Sharon needs something to hang on to, and she finds it by joining a religious sect (Tolkin never names it).

When the film jumps ahead six years, Sharon is the wife of an insurance exec, Randy (David Duchovny, the transvestite FBI agent from Twin Peaks), and the mother of a daughter, Mary (Kimberly Cullum). Sharon's serene existence is shattered when Randy is murdered. She and Mary give up their home and possessions to live in the desert. Despite the efforts of a local sheriff (Will Patton) to make them eat and take shelter, Sharon and Mary are secure in their faith that Jesus will come and zap them into heaven.

It's here that the film moves into loopy melodrama and blunts what had been the keen edge of Rogers's performance. Tolkin is trying to be the new Ingmar Bergman and question the existence of God, but his special effects and visions of the apocalypse are tacky and muddled. The great Swedish director knows the difference between a movie and a sermon; Tolkin does not. Though this controversial movie has been screened at several prestigious film festivals, The Rapture isn't art — it's misery.