Believe Me is a film that succeeds primarily because of all the faith it has in itself. Despite being an underdog film with a story that seems a little too familiar, it’s pulled off with confidence by all involved.
College student Sam (Chronicle’s Alex Russell) learns that his scholarship has expired and needs to raise almost ten grand in order to graduate. While accompanying a friend to a church function, he sees the charitable Christians as perfect marks. With the help of a couple frat buddies, Sam launches project “Get Wells Soon,” a fake charity to help children in Africa. Their party organizing skills paired with Sam’s natural preaching abilities lead them on a cross country tour where believers fall hook, line and sinker for their “God Squad” act.
Much like their schtick, the film relies on the charm of its lead, Russell, who’s likable even though he shouldn’t be. The same goes for his frat buddies, particularly the sleazy Pierce played by Miles Fisher, who is like a Texan Christian Bale. To support the young cast, we’re treated to seasoned comedic actors such as Christopher McDonald and the perpetually cast-behind-a-desk Nick Offerman who goes a little off the rails in his one scene that feels like it includes several outtakes.
Writer/ director Will Bakke is able to take a pretty predictable story and make it entertaining through humorous characterization, good pacing and some flare in what could have otherwise been a very visually boring picture. Bakke is a Christian, but this isn’t a preachy film. It’s more an extension of his previous documentary work (One Nation Under God and Beware of Christians) that explored the tricky nature of faith rather than condemning or sermonizing. Of course, the film does conclude with an obvious moral, but fortunately the credits roll just before it looks like a message is about to be shoved into our faces.
As the title suggests, much of the film is about the nature of truth. Is it lying to preach something you don’t really believe in when those listening do? There’s no definitive word of God, so what makes a preacher more qualified to spread his message than these guys, especially if the effect is the same? Even though it doesn’t make a lot of sense in the context of the scene, the film’s theme is basically stated in an early moment where Sam asks a fraternity pledge to lie about the hazing he’s had to go through. “So you want me to sell out?” he asks, to which Sam replies “No, I want you to buy in.” Language is funny thing and can be extremely manipulative when used effectively. Ultimately the film is about the power words can have on our innermost beliefs, for better or worse. While the subject may sound lofty, the film still delivers the comedy people will go see it for.
Believe Me opens Sept. 26 at Carlton Cinema