Believe Me movie review: those whom Jesus would mock
Not your typical Christian film: it dares to question the money-making machine that is evangelicalism. But it doesn’t dare question Christianity itself.
I’m “biast” (pro):
I’m “biast” (con): I’m an atheist, and not a fan of Christian movies
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
This may not be the typical Christian movie, as we’ve come to know them in recent years. Believe Me is a sharp smackdown of faith-based gullibility, and of how easily manipulated believers can be by anyone who shouts the name “Jesus” and waves a Bible around. But it still presumes that the viewer is a believer, and that the truth of the story of Christ and all the other stories that go along with it are so plainly self-evident that they need not be questioned. Which means this movie, as intriguingly realistically cynical about the money-making machine of modern evangelicalism as it is, won’t have much to say to anyone not already in the club.
Still, this is almost shocking, coming from Christian filmmakers Michael B. Allen and Will Bakke (they both wrote the script; Bakke directs): a story about four Austin frat brothers, led by Sam (Alex Russell: Carrie, The Host), who set up a fake charity to scam money from well-meaning but overtrusting folks in order to pay tuition and cover other sundry frat-boy expenses. Sam is planning to go to law school, but first, some fraud!
The debates between the guys, all nonbelievers, around the wrongness of the scam are overly simplistic: the biggest objector is Tyler (Sinqua Walls), who worries about “Hell” as a forthcoming punishment, as if this is something that concerns non-Christians, and as if simple wrongness itself wouldn’t be enough of a deterrent for most people. (This is, if accidentally so, an indictment of Christians: so, they’d all be off doing bad things if they didn’t believe Hell awaited them?) But the mocking as the guys study and appropriate “Christian style” in order to be more convincing fraudsters is something I can get behind, even if it is never more than very gentle: the religious rock song the lyrics of which are “Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus”; how to swear like a Christian (“F Satan!”).
In the end, though, Sam’s inevitable seeing-the-light conversion is implausible and far too sudden, and Believe Me ultimately shares an attitude that all Christian movies do: that all it takes is a constant repetition of “Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus” to turn a nonbeliever into a believer, as if nonbelievers had merely somehow managed to avoid hearing anything about him before. This is, for Christians, a very safe sort of satire that looks askew only at the modern entertainment-industrial-complex trappings of Religion(TM), one that doesn’t dare question Christianity itself.