These are real films, light but entertaining
“It’s a real film, Jack.” The character of Kurt says with a mixture of astonishment and admiration as he and director Jack Horner stare at the movie they are editing. Jack leans back in his chair with a palpable expression of relief. “It feels good, doesn’t it?” he sighs.
It’s a very small moment in a big sprawling film, but it’s one of my favorites from Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights.” Now, it may seem strange to open up a review of two new faith-based films by referencing a movie about the porn industry, but honestly, it’s exactly what came to mind after watching “Believe Me” and “The Song.” I have to imagine the makers of these two films felt much the same relief as the character of Jack Horner did once they saw the fruits of their efforts.
“Believe Me” and “The Song” are real films. Acting, directing, camera placement, editing, lighting, it’s all there. That shouldn’t be a big deal, but let’s face it, when you’re talking about films made by Christians for Christians, it kind of is.
The inescapable truth is that the faith-based film industry has not historically been known for its contribution to quality cinema. Oh, it’s churned out a lot of product, especially over the last decade since “The Passion of the Christ” made big bucks at the box office, but it hasn’t actually produced a lot of real films. If “Believe Me” and “The Song” are any indication, that might finally be changing.
“Believe Me” is the story of four fraternity brothers who, desperate for cash, hit upon the idea of founding a fake Christian charity and pocketing the donations. Impressed by the energy of their ministry, a faith-based production company approaches the foursome and invites them to tour nationally with an up-and-coming contemporary Christian artist. It isn’t long before the dough starts to roll in. The problem is, so do the pangs of conscience.
“Believe Me” starts off as a comedy, and for anyone who has ever spent some time in a modern Evangelical worship space (yeah, I’m talking about those places where they don’t use the word church too often), there’s a lot of humor to be found in the movie. The filmmakers take great joy in skewering some of the more artificial elements found in contemporary Protestant worship.
Most of the laughs come as the frat boys take turns in giving each other presentations on how to appear more Christian. They demonstrate the four postures of prayer (the gecko, the casual five, the straight jacket and, my favorite, the Shawshank). They study how to make their Bibles appear properly worn and well-read (Protestants can’t function without a highlighter). They teach each other the list of words guaranteed to make a spoken prayer a success. (Only one or two actually appear in the Our Father, so Jesus dropped the ball there, I guess.) And they learn the most important lesson of all: how to swear without using swear words, because Protestants love that kind of stuff.
The most fun comes at the expense of Gabriel (Zachary Knighton), the contemporary Christian singer who only knows one song, an innocuous ditty that simply repeats the name of Jesus over and over again (be sure to check out the screen on stage for the lyrics). His part is a pretty dead-on parody of Sunday morning rock ‘n’ roll praise leaders.
I suppose I could be a jerk and point out that most of what “Believe Me” lampoons isn’t to be found in the Catholic Church because she wisely chose to keep her form of worship basically the same over the past two millennia. But until we get rid of those last few puppet masses still floating around out there, I should probably avoid casting that stone.