Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Review: 'Believe Me', Starring Alex Russell, Zachary Knighton, and Sinqua Walls

Sam Atwell (Alex Russell) is a graduating college senior, part of a fraternity, and headed for law school in the fall. So, he's got a lot going for him. He's flying high until he meets with his school counselor (played by a bitter Ron Swanson), who frankly tells him that he can't graduate because he owes the university over $9,000. Sam freaks out because he thinks his scholarships are supposed to cover the cost and so scrambles for a way to get money fast and go on fulfilling his goals. 

Sam's struck with what he thinks is a brilliant idea and recruits his frat brothers Tyler (Sinqua Walls), Pierce (Miles Fisher), and Baker (Max Adler) to help him. The plan: Come up with a fake charity and attempt to take money from willing Christians who are gung-ho about "helping Africa". Things get a bit out of hand, however, when they're approached by Ken (Christopher McDonald), Cross Country's tour manager and psyched Evangelical who is head over heels for the "God Squad" and wants to take them on a 27-city tour to raise thousands and dollars for their cause, an offer that Sam and his friends can't turn down. 

With a lot of faith-based films going for the wholesome, more family-friendly approach to religion and Jesus, Believe Me actually has the backbone to mock what has become an industrialized, money-making machine of modern-day evangelism. There's the pretty clever and hilarious montage about how to "act like a Christian", which includes making a Christian fashion line called "Cross-Dressing" and cursing like a Christian ("F you!"). This part is bold and lightly nudges the way religion has become commercial without actually questioning the religion itself, to its detriment. 

The leads are almost stereotypical to a fault, their typecast frat guy personas seeming to take over their whole sense of direction. From start to finish, there's no real progression of development. Sam goes from trying to milk their deal for all its worth to suddenly caring about what he's doing, all because he has what's supposed to be an enlightened conversation with Callie (Johanna Braddy). What we get from this conversation is that anyone (this includes Sam and his friends) who simply doesn't believe in Jesus is hopeless, which apparently makes Sam think, hey, maybe I'm not doing the right thing. Face palm.  

In summing up the film, it's above the usual faith-based films we've been given of late, pushes the envelope a little but doesn't get exceedingly far in completely questioning the methods of modern-day evangelism, which are shown in a negative light, but is pushed to the side when the focus shifts to the boys. There's some humor to get you through to the end, which is rushed and lackluster in trying to make any kind of point. Believe Me does try, and it's easy to see that it does, but its quick turnaround ending and mediocre push towards something more, and its retraction of that something, reduces its status. 

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