Take me to church and show me the true meaning of…money?
The cost of college tuition has led to many individuals taking drastic means to pay the bills. Tiffany may become a dancer. Chad might “perform” in videos with promises of having his face hidden. Veronica might become a waitress while Mike deals pot on the side. Whatever it takes, kids these days, who are not privileged enough to have rich parents or scholarships, do all they can to pay for school. In Believe Me, four college friends decide to start a fake non-profit charity in order to graduate. Touring the country and accepting donations for a “good cause” for African children, the four find themselves way over their heads when they become quasi-preaching celebrities. Looked upon as heroes of faith, the four infiltrate the mega-church business and make thousands and thousands of dollars.
Led by the impressive Alex Russell (Chronicle), Believe Me is a wonderful satire of the Christian faith that rolls through the American south with a bite and a ton of non-alcoholic beer. As the frat boys slide into their new lifestyles on the dollar and coin of their benefactors, they learn how to blend into the congregations and what it takes to be a real Christian…all for the sake of greed. They must adapt- learning the different positions of praying, the mannerisms of the believers, and how important it is to include in their prayers as many uses of the words God, Father, Jesus, Almighty, and Just as possible.They even market their own clothing line- Cross Dressing, in order to merchandise themselves even further and rake in even more cash.
Unfortunately, the fraudulent expedition into the Mega-Church mentality is the only comical part of the film. As many comedies of this variety do, Believe Me suffers from a Harvey Dent syndrome, as it is essentially two different films in one. The first half is a comedy with balls to the walls humor, all at the expense of those who believe. The second half, however, dwindles into a dramatic cheese-fest that becomes much more predictable than one would hope. The tonal shifts takes all of Believe Me‘s wind out of its sails and leaves a third act that struggles to find its finish. Had the film kept up with its satirical tone, Believe Me could have been an exceptional little comedy.
That being said, as much as the second half feels like a Dawson’s Creek episode, the film is by no means, terrible. Predictability is a curse that very few films can escape, and Believe Me has just enough going for it to keep it interesting. Thanks mostly to a wonderful young cast, including a Christian Bale doppelganger in Miles Fisher, the absolutely gorgeous Johanna Braddy, and MTV/ABC Family stars Max Adler (Glee) and Sinqua Walls (Teen Wolf). Another standout is Happy Endings‘ Zachary Knighton, who plays a pseudo-rockstar of the Christian faith who thinks getting by as a Jesus-y Keith Urban will give him even more popularity.
The biggest thorn stuck in Believe Me‘s side is that it is a film without a message. Switching from satire to almost a movie trying to convert the audience, the movie just cannot find its place. It begins with a bite, yet releases its grip as the movie continues, as though they slowly become aware of who they are offending. If you look at the film’s credits, though, you will see that the director Will Bakke, has made several Christian documentaries before. And although those were much edgier and different than your run-of-the-mill Jesus flicks, you can’t help but wonder if Believe Me has a similar message cleverly disguised within it. By all means, this is not a bad thing, but when you go into a movie expecting one thing and it turns into the opposite direction, you’re left a bit disappointed.
So with that said, Believe Me does have a good message. Be good. Do good. Care for others. Have fun. And if you can do it all without taking it all too seriously, you’re golden.
The Good: A great young cast led by Russell and Fisher, as well as a nice little soundtrack packed with all sorts of hipstery tunes
The Bad: A drastic tonal shift midway through that completely changes everything… in a meh way
The God: Frowning on the fraud but happy people are helping each other
Believe Me hits theaters and On Demand on September 26th. The film also stars Christopher McDonald and Nick Offerman.