Plot: Tom (Gary Busey) is a police detective who has seen it all, or at least he used to think he had seen it all. After a coma, he woke up to a world that was much different than the one he remembered. Millions of people vanished into thin air, including his own sister, while a man named Franco Macalousso (Nick Mancuso) has seized power and become a god-like presence. While Tom is not a man of faith, he has the seeds of belief thanks to his sister, who used to share stories of Jesus Christ. Macalousso’s latest plan involves giving each citizen whatever their heart desires, via a virtual reality device that simulates those fantasies. The experiences look and feel real, even if they aren’t and many people have accepted this deal, in exchange for total loyalty to his regime. But Tom has his doubts about what is going on and even if he still has issues with faith, he is determined to uncover the truth.
Entertainment Value: This is the third film in the Apocalypse series and the stunt casting reaches a new high, with an eclectic ensemble that includes Gary Busey, Margot Kidder, and yes fans, Howie Mandel. A cast like that is impossible to resist and if you’re only interested in this installment because of the names involved, it is safe to skip the previous movies. The series has a large narrative arc around the Antichrist and the religious resistance, but each movie has a smaller, self contained story that unfolds within the bigger picture. Helen Hannah’s personal tale is the thread woven through the entire franchise, but it is often pushed aside to let the bigger stars shine, especially in the second and third pictures. This sequel falls in with the others, not effective as a serious drama, but also not outlandish enough to score b movie points, despite the colorful talent involved. The narrative is about a non believer slowly being converted, which is the same approach taken in the previous two movies, so there’s not much in terms of new threads or approaches here. I suppose if your interest in Tribulation is in the religious component, you might find more to like here, though I think much better Christian movies are out there. But if you’re here for a manic Gary Busey turn or b movie thrills, no such luck in this case.
I had to finish the Apocalypse series once I started, a decision prompted in part by some of the interesting casting choices throughout the sequels. While Mr. T’s presence in the final movie Judgment is tough to top, I had hopes for Tribulation, since it looked as if Gary Busey had the lead. He does indeed have the central character here, but his turn is quite restrained and serious, so those looking for a wild, over the top performance won’t find that here. Busey does what he can with the material, so his effort is competent and more than watchable, but the script doesn’t allow his talent to shine, neither as a serious actor or as a charismatic presence. But I still like the idea of Busey in a religious propaganda movie, so there’s that. Howie Mandel provides the most stilted, odd turn of the ensemble, though it is just more or less a lackluster performance, not bad enough to give unintentional humor vibes. The cast also includes Margot Kidder, Patrick Gallagher, Nick Mancuso, and Leigh Lewis.