Do You Believe? full movie review - "Do You Believe?" rises above its one-sided arguments with an inherently entertaining story.
It's difficult to credibly review a faith-based film. No matter what you say/write, people will assume that your opinion, whether positive or negative, is unduly influenced by your own personal religious convictions, whether pro or con.
Anyone who sees a lot of movies for the purpose of reviewing them will inevitably feel compelled to see a movie that he or she didn't really want to see. The reviewer's obligation, however, is the same whether he/she wanted to see the movie or not ? to be as open-minded and objective as possible and judge the movie fairly based on entertainment value alone. In fact, that's part of the joy in reviewing movies ? being pleasantly surprised, coming across an undiscovered gem ? and telling others about it, so they can consider seeing that movie and maybe have a similarly positive experience. Having said all that, I went to see "Do You Believe?" (PG-13, 1:55) without any agenda to trash it or praise it, but to judge it on entertainment value alone, which is what I'm about to do?
From the producers of 2014's "God's Not Dead", "Do You Believe?" asks the title's question ? and the follow-up question: if so, what do you do about it? ? in a variety of ways. The film is part sermon, part morality play and part human drama which follows the stories of 12 Chicagoans as they are each forced to answer one or both of those questions, depending on where each is in his/her spiritual journey and whether he or she responds positively or negatively to the Christian message, as presented. That message is the mainstream evangelical Christian message of making a conscious decision to repent of your sins and trust Jesus Christ for your salvation. But the movie isn't just about getting "saved". In asking that second question, the movie takes a strong stand that a sincere belief in Christ requires the commitment of a changed life that follows the example set by Jesus in the Bible, as much as humanly possible.
The movie's main character, Pastor Matthew (Ted McGinley) is asked that first question by a street preacher named Malachi (Delroy Lindo), answers in the affirmative, and then gets the follow-up question, which makes him wonder whether his faith in God is being sufficiently demonstrated in the things he does. The point is hammered home dramatically when Matthew witnesses Malachi confront four young black men stealing a van and refusing to back down when the gang's leader, known as Kriminal (Senyo Amoaku) points a gun at Malachi's head and threatens him before driving off. Matthew isn't the only one affected by this scene. Kriminal's younger brother, Pretty Boy (Shwayze), sitting in the passenger seat of that van, wonders aloud if Malachi might be right. Matthew gives a sermon in which he challenges his spiritual flock not only to believe in the Gospel intellectually, but to do something about it. This sermon, and the small wooden crosses everyone in the church that night received, set into motion a series of events that affect all the movie's main characters.
The lives of these 12 people intersect, much the way that the lives of several Angelinos intersected in 2006's Best Picture Oscar Winner, "Crash". Pretty Boy literally stumbles into the church as that sermon is in progress and is invited into the sanctuary by Joe (Brian Bosworth), a gentle giant of a man who tells P.B., "I've been where you are." Joe had earlier shown the sincerity of his faith by inviting a homeless woman named Samantha (Mira Sorvino) and her young daughter Lily (Makenzie Moss) to stay at his place for the night. Later in the movie, J.D. and Teri (Lee Majors and Cybill Shepherd), still grieving the tragic loss of their daughter, also meet and reach out to Samantha and Lily. Meanwhile, Pastor Matthew and his wife (Tracy Lindsey Melchior) similarly reach out to a homeless pregnant teenager (Madison Pettis). An EMT (Liam Matthews) reaches out on the job and shares his faith with a dying man and won't apologize to the widow, for which Bobby's wife (Valerie Dominquez) criticizes him and the widow's lawyer (Andrea Logan White) sues him. Rounding out the main cast are a Marine (Joseph Julian Soria) whose tour in Afghanistan left him with a bad case of PTSD and a young suicidal woman (Alexa PenaVega) who reach out to each other, while Dr. Farell (Sean Astin), the token atheist/agnostic in the story, watches, participates in and reacts to many of the movie's goings-on with disgust.
"Do You Believe?" is a surprisingly entertaining piece of propaganda. The movie carries a clear message and doesn't try to hide its agenda, but presents some of the non-believers as one-dimensional caricatures, much like the film's producers did in "God's Not Dead", but the most of the characters are a bit more nuanced in this film. We do see non-believers do good things, and we see believers struggling to do the right thing, and not always making the best choices. What helps sell all this is the most talented, experienced and well-known group of actors that I've ever seen in a faith-based film. Among others, this cast includes an Oscar winner (Sorvino), the star of several classic movies (Astin, from "The Goonies", "Rudy" and "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy), a very accomplished movie and TV actor (Lindo), actors whose TV careers span most of the past six decades (McGinley, Shepherd and Majors) and a former NFL player (Bosworth). The script weaves together all the characters' stories brilliantly. Almost every character I mentioned above interacts with at least three of the others and the action culminates in a surprisingly dramatic third act. There's a bit of melodrama here and an intentionally one-sided message which dismisses all other points of view, but this is still a pretty entertaining film. "B"