CAPSULE: What starts as a light college comedy builds to a much more serious film with complex moral issues. A college senior who seems to be majoring in partying and extreme Christianity needs money to pay a tuition bill before he can graduate. With three friends he invents a phony charity supposedly to send them on a religious mission to Africa. The four take their bogus appeals on a cross-country tour of prayer meetings and calls for donations. Some of the comedy is light and funny, but the moral impact of the fraud begins to catch up with the boys. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Sam (played by Alex Russell) is a senior in college whose spare time is spent in parties and in church. He discovers that his scholarship has run out and he needs $9000 to graduate. He and three friends (Sinqua Wallace, Max Adler, and Miles Fisher) make up a false story that he will be going to do missionary work in Lesotho, an enclave of South Africa. They run some religious shows where there is insincere preaching and collections for his supposed "mission," now dubbed "Project Get Wells Soon". Sam discovers he has a talent for convincing audiences that he is sincere and dedicated. On the road with a musician, Gabriel (Zachary Knighton), and the attractive tour manager Callie (Johanna E. Braddy). As they go, the four study what it takes to really fit in with the religious crowd.
Most of the actors have not been playing in places where I have been looking. Most familiar is Christopher McDonald who played an overripe TV host in Darren Aronofsky's REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. Here his manager of the traveling show is nicely ambiguous. He seems easier to like than to trust, which adds a nice edge to the film. A very good choice is Johanna Braddy as Callie. Ms. Braddy has a great deal of screen presence and is a definite asset to the film. Sam, the main character, is played by Alex Russell who has a touch of cynicism in his face that fits the character well.
The film was produced by Riot Studios who seem to be sticking to religious films aimed at the Southeast high school and college market. The film packs a lot of Christian message not so much in the film's main theme, which would be tiresome, but in the collateral dialog and in showing the performances of the travelling show. Only one line really rankles, however. The character Tyler, who is the moral compass of the four friends, reminds the others that they will be "stealing from Christians" As if that was worse than simple stealing. The film is written by Will Bakke and Michael B. Allen and directed by Bakke.
It would be easy to come away feeling BELIEVE ME was a religious bait-and-switch with an especially Christian message. At least it does not say that belief in Jesus fixes everything. And it does pact some ethical issues of some complexity. I rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3107070/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/believe_me/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2014 Mark R. Leeper