'Believe Me': Film Review
A financially strapped law school student creates a sham charity to fleece Christian believers
Neither an inspirational faith-based film nor an attack on Christian dogma, Will Bakke’s comedy/drama Believe Me plays like a religious variation of Risky Business minus the sex. While the film is admirable for its refusal to mock the true believers who fall victim to a money-raising scam, it never quite manages to muster the necessary satirical bite to render it more than a harmless diversion. Indeed, it’s hard to figure out exactly who its audience is, although it seems certain that their numbers will be small.
The plot is set in motion when law school student Sam (Alex Russell) is informed by his hard-drinking school counselor (Nick Offerman, delivering one of his typically priceless, droll cameos) that his scholarship has expired and he needs to immediately come up with $9000 in order to graduate.
Inspired by a church fundraising service, the enterprising Sam enlists his fraternity brothers Pierce (Miles Fisher, whose uncanny resemblance to a young Tom Cruise proves endlessly distracting), Tyler (Singqua Walls) and Baker (Max Adler) to join him in a scam to raise money for drinkable water in Africa, too cutely dubbed “Get Wells Soon.”
Their initial success attracts the attention of a Christian organization, Cross Country, whose leader (Christopher McDonald) invites them to join them on a nationwide fundraising tour. Dubbed the “God Squad,” Sam and his buddies quickly prove a sensation, even managing to create a clothing line with the punning label “Cross Dressing.”
Sam becomes enamored of beautiful tour manager Callie (Johanna Braddy), whose wholesome sincerity leads him to an emotional crisis fueled by a combination of conscience and libido. Adding to his concerns is the increasing suspicion of his rival for Callie’s affections, the tour’s resident rocker Gabriel (Zachary Knighton).
The film co-scripted by Bakke and Michael B. Allen has some sharp, funny moments, such as when Sam tutors his accomplices in Christian body language, including an arms outstretched pose he dubs the “Shawshank.” But as it gets more serious it devolves into ponderousness, with Russell lacking the charisma necessary to make credible his character’s ascent into preaching stardom.
Bakke, whose previous credits include the documentaries Beware of Christians and One Nation Under God, is clearly familiar with the milieu. But despite the authenticity on display, this debut narrative effort lacks the cinematic oomph to make anyone a believer.
Production: Riot Studios
Cast: Alex Russell, Zachary Knighton, Johanna Braddy, Miles Fisher, Sinqua Walls, Max Adler, Nick Offerman, Christopher McDonald
Director: Will Bakke
Screenwriters: Michael B. Allen, Will Bakke
Producer: Alex Carroll
Executive producers: Jim Kozlowski, Barry Twomey
Director of photography: John Rutland
Editors: Will Bakke, Shane Hazen
Production designer: George T. Morrow
Costume designer: Lily Walker
Composer: Hanan Townshend
Casting: J.C. Cantu
Rated PG-13, 93 min.