This post was originally published at Let There Be Movies.

Sam Atwell has a problem. His scholarship has expired and he has accrued $9,000 in outstanding tuition fees. To make matters worse, he only has three weeks to come up with the money or he won’t graduate college; and if he doesn’t graduate college he won’t be able to get into law school. Sam’s career goals are quickly disappearing down the drain.

This is how “Believe Me” the new comedy by Will Bakke (“Beware of Christians”, “One Nation Under God”) begins. Sam (Alex Russell) enlists the aid of his fraternity brothers Pierce (Miles Fisher), Tyler (Sinqua Walls), and Baker (Max Adler) to create a fake Christian charity to raise just enough cash to graduate. But once Ken (Christopher McDonald) catches wind of what they’re doing, he promises the boys national exposure with a promise of beaucoup bucks… for the Lord, of course.

I have to be honest; when I saw the trailer for this movie I thought this was going to be some kind of exercise in Christian-bashing. But then I noticed that Phil Wickham was on the soundtrack. And then I noticed Lecrae was a featured actor in the movie. Those two certainly wouldn’t be a part of a film bashing Christians, I thought. Then I watched the movie and I realized something: “Believe Me” isn’t a Christian movie. It’s a movie with Christian themes. I’ll explain why that’s significant in a moment, but first, the review.

The Review

I believe (pardon the pun) this movie is the first of its kind. My wife and I spent the first two-thirds of the film laughing so hard that we had to rewind scenes or lines to catch what we missed. Russell and Walls play good straight men opposite Fisher and Adler’s ridiculous antics. These four have a chemistry that definitely carries the film, as they are in the majority of scenes together. There are a lot of memorable moments and quotable lines throughout the film. My personal favorites entailed the satirical elements directed at the church itself (see: “You don’t want to be Shawshanking in a room full of Geckos”).

As Sam and friends tour the country, they develop the art of Christianese to cater to the crowds. Pierce whets the crowd’s appetite and Sam consistently closes with, “All I ask is that you give in a way that reflects the faith that you claim.” But along the way something changes. Tyler begins to doubt the lies he and his friends told their selves to justify their actions, and Sam begins to fall for Callie (Johanna Braddy), the tour coordinator. So what happens when con artists begin to have a change of heart? The movie answers this question very well.

The characters, while comical, are well-written and react to the changing dynamics of the plot in a realistic way. One of the aspects of the script (written by Bakke and Michael B. Allen) that I appreciate is that it treats its audience as intelligent people that can understand nuance and draw conclusions based on the elements it presents. This movie is not going to think for you or inauthentically shove the Gospel message down your throat. As a matter of fact, the best line pertaining to the Gospel arises out of an argument between Callie and Sam where she says, “I just think you should put your hope in something that is worthy of it.” This isn’t simply a throwaway line; it is a comment that deserves to be thoroughly weighed and considered.

Christian Pop Culture

In my review of “God’s Not Dead” I praised the elements of the story that worked and bemoaned those that didn’t. Specifically, I appreciated the apologetic components presented in the Josh-vs.-Radisson showdown as I think that all nonbelievers should consider those issues with respect to their worldviews. However, the question I had after seeing “God’s Not Dead” (and movies like it) was: Would a nonbeliever see this movie? I think the answer is largely, “No.” This is because Christian pop culture entertainment has been specifically written and produced for Christians; which, don’t get me wrong, is not necessarily a bad thing. Elements of certain films like “Fireproof” and “Courageous” have inspired us to go deeper in our relationships with the Lord and others. But these films, whether the ones I just cited or the Kirk Cameron “Left Behind” series or Kevin Sorbo’s “What If” suffer from what I have called a pedestrian polish; that is, they are not of a quality on par with the best that Hollywood can produce.

Here’s the thing: If Christian pop culture does not strive to tell stories that are at least as equally engaging as the secular culture then we are inadvertently relegating ourselves to a fringe subculture separated from the rest of society. And that is exactly what has happened for a number of decades now. Rapper Lecrae spoke on this issue with regard to his music, “There is a sacred-secular divide that hinders us from impacting culture.”[1] That is, we have taken the descriptor “Christian” and turned it into a separate genre instead of treating it as a faith that reaches into all aspects of society. But the only way our faith can reach into the pop culture specifically is by developing an engaging, artistic voice that touches the broadest demographic. Look at this way: movies like “Her” or “Transcendence” are not heavy handed in affirming their materialistic worldview. Nevertheless, for most people, to enjoy those stories is to implicitly accept the premise of materialism (if for only two hours). That is the subtle pull of compelling storytelling.[2]

This is my ultimate desire, folks; not that all Christian pop culture films need to evangelize per se (some can be made purely to edify Christians), but that we tell stories with Christian themes that are compelling and attractive to all kinds of people, not just us. Now, I know this can be accomplished! Christian historical pieces have proved that – think “Luther”, “The Passion of the Christ”, or “Amazing Grace”. So, if great filmmaking can be accomplished with those historical pieces then I believe they can for Christian pop culture films as well.

The Biblical Worldview of “Believe Me”

In the beginning of the movie Sam believes that some lying can instill hope in others and is, therefore, something that people secretly desire. Ironically, this is a lie he tells himself so he can do what he wants. Scripture tells us that “Truthful lips will be established forever, but a lying tongue is only for a moment” (Proverbs 12:19). While the passage is a principle and not a guarantee, it is very often the case that lies are eventually discovered. This particular axiom is represented in the story of Abraham claiming Sarah as his sister (Genesis 20:2), Laban promising Jacob Rachel and delivering Leah (Genesis 29:18-25), and Ananias and Sapphira falsifying the selling price of their home (Acts 5:1-10). The Bible says one of the things that the Lord hates is lying (Proverbs 6:17) and that a false witness will not go unpunished (Proverbs 19:9). While the end of the film will not be discussed in this review, the issue and biblical treatment of lying is well represented in “Believe Me”.

Personally, as a Christian, I’m very proud of this movie and I strongly urge you all to watch it and talk about it with your friends and family! “Believe Me” is rated PG-13 for language.[3]

 

[1] Alex Murashko, “’Sacred-Secular Divide’ Hinders Christians From Impacting Culture, Says Lecrae,” The Christian Post, October 13, 2012 http://www.christianpost.com/news/sacred-secular-divide-hinders-christians-from-impacting-culture-says-lecrae-83214/ (accessed September 30, 2014).

[2] That is, if you accept that “Her” or “Transcendence” is compelling storytelling. Perhaps you don’t; in which case, fill in the blank with a better example.

[3] By the way, I don’t understand why the movie is rated PG-13. In my opinion, the language should have only garnered a PG rating.

1 COMMENT

  1. I love your input concerning the “Christian-Secular divide.” This divide is something I have increasingly been thinking about, and I want to do my part to diminish it with my writing pursuits. Thanks for writing this! I haven’t seen the film yet but I will when I can!