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movies matter | criticism by maryann johanson

Do You Believe? movie review: nope

Do You Believe? red light

Crash, but Jesus-y. Scoffers and doubters will get their smackdown, but even believers should be skeptical at how this ridiculous roundrobin plays out.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): I most certainly do not believe

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Think Crash, but Jesus-y. (Oh dear, I mean the Oscar Best Picture Crash, not the people-who-get-turned-on-by-automobile-accidents one. A Jesus-y version of that would be quite disturbing.) The crisscrossing interactions of a whole bunch of different people are meant to inspire us, apparently, to accept the power of God to arrange outrageous coincidences so that they can all do good deeds for one another and, much more importantly, so that their good deeds pay off for them in a positive way. Whether you are so inspired is directly correlated to how much of a believer you already are, though even they should be skeptical at how this all plays out. Are you a scoffer? A doubter? An atheist? Oh, you will get your smackdown.

It all kicks off when a minister (Ted McGinley: Pearl Harbor) is so moved by the faith of a street preacher (Delroy Lindo: Up, This Christmas) — who is clearly mentally ill and probably a danger to himself, though the movie doesn’t seem to realize that — that he then tells his own congregation that they have to, you know, do stuff in God’s name, not just pay lip service to him. This is a very nice idea that more people who call themselves Christian could take to heart, but the way it plays out here is absurdly contrived to the point, in some cases, of cruelty, inevitably prompting the thinking viewer to wonder, “Well, if God could arrange this as a fix for that bad thing that happens, why couldn’t he just arrange for the bad thing not to happen in the first place?” (Later, God does fix a bad thing, and it’s completely risible. The nonbeliever cannot win with this movie.)

The mysterious ways in which God moves here includes connecting a couple (Cybill Shepherd [The Muse, Moonlighting] and Lee Majors [Big Fat Liar]) who’ve lost their daughter with a homeless woman (Mira Sorvino: Reservation Road, Gods and Generals) and her small child (Makenzie Moss: Steve Jobs)… the mysteriousness being, How did these people end up in a sermon passing for a film? There’s also a cynical doctor (Sean Astin: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, Bigger Than the Sky) and his nasty lawyer wife (Andrea Logan White), an obnoxious money-grubber who acts in ways that are downright unethical; as we know, atheists are never good people. Meanwhile, a paramedic (Liam Matthews) who puts the fear of a hellfire afterlife in an injured man he should be treating is depicted as a paragon of faith and morality. (Atheists always see the error of their ways the moment someone shouts “Jesus!” at them, too, because no atheist ever has a considered, thoughtful foundation for their lack of belief; it’s simply that, somehow, in a culture as soaked in religion as America’s is, they’ve never encountered the notion of a deity before.)

There are people here with real problems and genuine troubles, but as ever when God comes into it in preaching-to-the-choir movies like this one, the solutions are preposterous, the worst sort of fairy tales. This is a worry when movies like this are not intended as mere entertainments but as instructional and inspirational. No one really believes that, say, James Bond or Indiana Jones, or even the central characters in any cosy down-to-earth drama, should be held up as actual role models for living one’s life. But the characters here, fictional though they may be, are meant to encourage the viewer to emulate them. But no one is going to get the ridiculously pat happy endings these people get.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Do You Believe? for its representation of girls and women.

red light 1 star

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Amazon US
Do You Believe? (2015)
US/Can release: Mar 20 2015

MPAA: rated PG-13 for thematic elements, an accident sequence and some violence

viewed on my iPad

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    If one actually had faith, one wouldn’t need reassurance of a temporal reward for temporal deeds; the promise of an eternal reward would be enough. So basically this is a film meant for doubting Christians: “we still don’t have any evidence for our claims, but here’s how it could work”.

  • Bluejay

    What’s with all the reviews of religious films, MaryAnn? Is it just a coincidence?

    Also: Cybill Shepherd, Lee Majors, Mira Sorvino, and Sean Astin? Uh… Jesus.

  • My daughter and I like to watch these sorts of films for a laugh. Is this a “C Me Dance” style laugh riot, a “God’s Not Dead” with the occasional giggle, or is it a “Saving Christmas” style bore-fest?

  • In my experience, the vast majority of people who profess to hold to a certain faith don’t actually act as if they do.

  • It’s me catching up on the 2015 wide releases for #WhereAreTheWomen. The “faith-based” ones don’t open in the UK because there’s no audience for them, so I’ve had to wait until I could get them on-demand. And now I want to get them out of the way as quickly as possible.

  • It’s not funny in any way, at all. Sorry.

  • althea

    I don’t recall reading a review (of any kind, not just yours) that had me wrinkling my forehead incrementally, to the point where the muscles hurt. Beginning with: Ted McGinley?!! This person is the very flagbearer of don’t-bother criteria. Then: Like Bluejay said – “Cybill Shepherd, Lee Majors, Mira Sorvino, and Sean Astin?” HUH?!!

    Heaven help us.

  • Karsh

    Well I don’t know about you, but when I was watching this film over a few RE lessons, I couldn’t contain my laughter at some points in it. Some of the scenes were just so ridiculous that I couldn’t have possibly not laughed from the sheer thought of seeing that films’ creators coming up with the script and agreeing with each other that “it would definitely be a great idea”.

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