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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Believe Me movie review: those whom Jesus would mock

Believe Me yellow light

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): nothing

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.

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Believe Me (2014)
US/Can release: Sep 26 2014 (VOD same day)

MPAA: rated PG-13 for some language

viewed on my iPad

official site | IMDb
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, please reconsider.

  • Anon

    After watching this movie twice now, I really don’t remember any of the characters being afraid of a literal hell (but I could be forgetting). Also, you make it sound as if the main character converts to Christianity, I think the only implication is that he decides to do the right thing, but I guess it is open to interpretation.

  • Yeah, he decides to do the right thing after he is told something about being hopeless because he has no hope in Jesus. There’s literally nothing else in the movie to explain why he suddenly decides to do the right thing.

  • Bluejay

    the money-making machine of modern evangelicalism

    Aaand that’s all it took to get this song stuck in my head. Thanks. :-)

  • Zaheer the Anarchist

    I really wish Christian films would draw on more of the source material. The bible has so many wonderfully ridiculous stories that could make entertaining films. The story of Sampson is nuts enough to make an entertaining action flick. It’s like Conan the barbarian meets Hercules. It could make a wonderfully cheesy summer movie. Just look at how many people went to see the Noah movie. I understand that these film companies are trying to be “educational” but most attempts are laughably bad. I remember, as a kid, being forced to watch a film where several strangers become stranded at a remote cafe. They all suspect something strange is afoot when the blond haired blue eyed owner knows all their favorite meals. The eerily friendly Josh Cristo serves them all up a plate of “soul food.”

  • bronxbee

    that bizarre nutty action flick of Samson was already done — see the Victor Mature movie “Samson and Deliliah” a laugh riot.


  • Danielm80

    Baz Lurmann’s Samson

    John Waters’ Sodom and Gomorrah

  • Have ya seen *Noah*? It’s wonderfully bonkers.

  • Tonio Kruger

    George Romero’s Lazarus.

  • RogerBW

    It may well be considered revolutionary and daring for a Christian™-brand filmmaker to suggest that there are some Christians who would be prepared to perpetrate this sort of fraud, even if they can be brought back to the true way by the end. (And the come-to-Jesus ending is practically a contractual requirement in this stuff.) The idea that “we’d be stealing from Christians” is advanced as an argument for why this particular fraud is actually the bad sort is a bit of a warning sign for me.

    There have been genuine cases of scammers who can talk the talk getting lots of money out of Christians because “he’s a Christian like me, he can’t be a bad person”. Perhaps one of those might have made a better basis for a story.

    There are plenty of Christians who genuinely believe that it’s only the fear of punishment that can keep people in line. That’s why they’re so confused by atheists: we aren’t all out raping and robbing and murdering, so obviously something must be stopping us, but it’s not God, so we must be worshipping something else and lying about it.

  • suggest that there are some Christians who would be prepared to perpetrate this sort of fraud

    Except they’re not Christians, that we can see. Though given the general religious makeup of the US, we can guess that they are probably some sort of nonevangelical Christian-ish (ie, celebrates Christmas but doesn’t go to church).

  • Zaheer the Anarchist

    That’s awesome, I must admit that I watch mainly mainstream movies (unfortunately). I just mentioned Sampson because he fits the boneheaded badass character type that is Hollywood’s favorite dead horse.

  • Zaheer the Anarchist

    I have, it surpassed my expectations. The fallen angels were the most entertaining giant beasties since the ents from “Jackson’s Tolkien Trilogy” I also loved the reaction from some YouTube fundamentalists. You could think of it as a cautionary tale against magic womb healing powers.

  • RogerBW

    Ah. I’d got the impression elsewhere that they were on the fringes of the evangelical life, so were already able to speak the language and so forth. That makes it even less interesting.

  • Danielm80

    I’d actually like to see Peter Greenaway or Wes Anderson film a version of the Noah story. Greenaway could superimpose a taxonomy of animals over the screen. (Anderson referenced Noah in Moonrise Kingdom, of course.)

  • Bluejay

    Think we’ll see you in Book 4, Zaheer? ;-)

  • Zaheer the Anarchist

    I’m afraid not, my mobility has been restricted by recent events. Do not worry, the new world order is inevitable. While my actions against Ba Sing Se were meant to bring freedom I am afraid that a power vacuum has formed now that the monarchy has fallen. The Avatar was a fool not to kill me, her misguided ideals will be the end of her. I will act through my agents in the capitol and elsewhere. As the great Guru Laghima once said “New growth cannot exist without first the destruction of the old”

  • Bluejay

    While you may have had some valid philosophical points, I’m afraid that resorting to violence is a line I personally can’t cross. I’m really sorry about P’Li, though.

  • Zaheer the Anarchist

    I understand, I deserve to join my fellow Lotus members for the role I played in the destruction of the temple. I will pay for my crimes in a manner that the people of the new world agree upon as I have no desire to become what I seek to destroy. You must feel the rumblings of a new power rising from the earth in the east. Such things will continue to happen until all the old nations are dissolved. Fundamental change cannot occur until those who still cling to old alliances and ancient wounds leave this world. The Avatar made a mistake when he left such an influential man alive, all it lead to was a bitter civil war. We must be decisive if we want to bring about balance in the world. As for P’Li… she knew the risks when she asked to stay by my side. I had hoped that the remnants of the Equalism movement would join our ranks. Unfortunately the manner of their leaders demise has sowed distrust of men like me. I wish you well.

  • Logan Hollis

    I understand that you are an atheist and that because of that you are biased, but you clearly did not get the point of this movie. This is not a Christian movie, it is a movie about the problems within Christianity. It pokes fun at the organized religion side of the Christian faith, but it also asks a lot of moral questions. What would you do in that situation? How would you handle that predicament? And honestly for a film that satires the Christian world, it makes sense that the main character would have some sort of change of heart because of “hope in Jesus”. Also, that conversation he has with Callie at the end of the movie is not the catalyst for his “conversion”, he was already struggling with it in the first place. Also, he never really had a conversion. We don’t what he did. Sure it looks like he fessed up, but for all we know he could have been giving the money to Cameron to continue the ruse and get out of going to prison. That is the beauty of this film, it doesn’t force anything on you. It looks at both sides equally and forces you to make a decision about what Sam did in the end, and about what is the right thing to do. Also, for the record, the film-makers are themselves Christians.

  • Logan Hollis

    The only one who is remotely hinted at being a Christian is Tyler. The movie also says a lot about peer-pressure.

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