Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 2, 2015)
For a comedic look at religion and charity, we go to 2014’s Believe Me. College senior Sam Atwell (Alex Russell) finds himself behind the eight-ball when a tuition hike leaves him without enough money to finish his schooling.
To raise funds, Sam convinces his pals Pierce (Miles Fisher), Tyler (Sinqua Walls) and Baker (Max Adler) to start a fake Christian charity. He tells donors that they can prove their faith if they give to his phony fund dedicated to safe drinking water to Africans.
Though this starts with selfish, cynical motives, matters change as the students’ efforts progress. In particular, Sam starts to question his actions when he gets to know Callie Edwards (Johanna Braddy), tour coordinator for “Cross Country”, a group that runs spiritual-based fundraising treks. We follow Sam’s journey and where it leads him in a spiritual and emotional way.
Based on the promo for Believe Me, you’ll probably expect more of a sharp-edge satire, but that doesn’t sum up the movie well. Instead, it attempts to serve two masters, as it tries to mock aspects of the religious/social group it portrays while it also supports the beliefs that underpin that culture.
This approach doesn’t work especially well, as it leaves the movie a bit toothless. On the surface, I feel I should support the filmmakers’ choices, as they deliver a fsirly balanced effort, not one that becomes too vicious or too sappy.
However, Believe Me falters because it seems neutered. I get the feeling those involved wanted so much to be “fair and balanced” that they lost sight of the material’s potential.
Instead, the movie tends to simply appear lukewarm. It doesn’t become sharp enough to qualify as good satire, but it also fails to turn convincing enough to stand as terribly spiritual and uplifting. It wanders from one sensibility to another without a whole lot of conviction, so it never seems to figure out what it wants to be.
The satirical elements probably end up as the weakest. While Believe Me offers a few good laughs, a lot of the humor seems lazy, such as the song with lyrics that just consist of “Jesus” repeated over and over again. When Chris Rock spoofed the rap scene decades ago in CB4, he used a similar joke – it was funny then but not so much now.
Believe Me features a cast as nondescript as the film itself. The main actors do fine, but I find it hard to cite any performances that stand out as memorable; the young thespians are attractive and moderately likable but not especially engaging.
I think the film loses points because it throws away the talented older actors in its cast. With Christopher McDonald and Nick Offerman in tow, we find two strong comedic performers, but Believe Me almost totally wastes them. They add little spark to the proceedings because the movie doesn’t give them enough to do.
I don’t want to come down too hard on Believe Me, as I think the movie remains perfectly watchable. After a string of bad, heavy-handed spiritual films like Moms’ Night Out and Left Behind, it’s also nice to find something with more subtlety. I’m not a particularly religious person, but if I were, I’d feel insulted by the pandering nature of most Christian flicks, so I like this one’s greater level of nuance.
Despite those mild positives, the final product simply doesn’t add up to much of a memorable experience. Believe Me displays good potential but it can’t often capitalize.