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Family Movie Review: Do You Believe? (PG-13)

DoYouBelieve ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): half-popcorn-kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 120 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 13+. No cursing or sexual content, but there is some violence, including a major car accident involving various people, some of whom die; gang activity, gunshots and a murder; and a war veteran who has post-traumatic stress disorder that manifests in violent ways. Also, characters consider suicide, and there is the discussion of teen pregnancy and abortion. The film is very aggressively for politically right-leaning Christian audiences, too, so that agenda may not fit for audiences who don’t fit into those two groups.

‘Do You Believe?’ may be the most aggressive faith-based film yet, with an agenda against liberals, atheists, and countless other groups that is often offensive and mostly simplistic. It’s fairly preposterous.

By Roxana Hadadi

If you’re not the target demographic of “Do You Believe?”—Christian, politically conservative, right-leaning, pro-life, pro-abstinence, pro-church—then this movie is almost impossible to watch. Of all the faith-based films lately, including “Pass the Light,” “The Song,” and “Believe Me,” it’s the most aggressive and offensive, not only because of how exclusionary its viewpoints are but also because of how clumsily they’re executed. This is a movie purely for its own very specific audience that will like it no matter what, and it’s not trying to do anything else at all.

Written by Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon, who were also responsible for last year’s very-successful “God’s Not Dead,” and directed by Jon Gunn, the film is essentially like a Christian-themed “Crash,” the 2004 Oscar winner about various people interacting in Los Angeles amid racial and social drama. There are 12 different people being followed around during “Do You Believe?”, and they’re all somewhat related or interconnected through matters of faith or law. The featured characters are the preacher and narrator Matthew (Ted McGinley), who after a late-night interaction with a street preacher carrying a huge wooden cross is inspired to hand out smaller ones among his congregation. With those wooden crosses in hand, the believers should go forward and try to do good in the world while spreading the Christian faith, Matthew thinks.

Among those people, there is an older couple (Lee Majors and Cybill Shepherd) whose daughter was recently killed by a drunk driver; a young pregnant teen (Madison Pettis) who ran away from home after her parents tried to pressure her into an abortion; a homeless mother (Mira Sorvino) and her adorable, precocious daughter (Makenzie Moss); a convict-turned-church-janitor trying to make good with his life (Brian Bosworth) despite a crippling illness; an EMT (Liam Matthews) who is being sued for preaching about Christianity to an atheist as he was dying, and his nurse wife (Valerie Dominguez); that nurse’s younger brother (Joseph Julian Soria), a war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who is contemplating suicide; his only friend who he meets when they both try to jump off a bridge (Alexa PenaVega, of “Spare Parts” and “23 Blast”); and a gang member (Shwayze) wrestling with guilt over his role in a robbery-turned-murder of a drug dealer.

Of all these subplots, the one that is most interesting involves the born-again EMT Bobby, who while treating a dying man asks what he believes in and pushes the wooden cross into his hands when the man replies “I don’t know,” encouraging him to accept Christianity before he dies so he can be saved. But the man’s wife isn’t happy with that at all—it turns out they were both self-identified humanists—and decides to sue Bobby for preaching his faith instead of trying to save her husband. And it turns out that the wife’s lawyer, who snarls “This cross is going to cost you,” is married to the hotshot-disbelieving doctor (Sean Astin, of “Moms’ Night Out”) who works with Bobby’s nurse wife Elena and says things like “I do His work. I should get the credit.”

So do you see where this is going? You see where this is going. As evidenced by the absurdly caricature-like depictions of lawyers, doctors, the American healthcare system, and unions, “Do You Believe?” is declaring war on anyone who wouldn’t respond affirmatively to the question that inspires Matthew: “Do you believe in the cross of Christ?” All the believers are selfless, wonderful people (well, except for the only black people in the film, who are either pregnant teenagers or gangsters with names like “Pretty Boy,” “Kriminal,” and “40 Ounce”), and they’re not given room to do anything else. They do good act after good act—taking in those who are less fortunate, soldiering on through tragedy, bravely facing the trauma in their past—because they happen to be Christian. No other character development is offered; instead, the movie assumes that viewers will automatically agree with these representations, so why go any deeper?

The suggestion that Christians are inherently better than anyone else isn’t enough, though; “Do You Believe?” also needs to drive that message home with increasingly elaborate declarations about what faith can do, like completely cure people from cancer in the span of a few seconds and bring them back to life after they’ve been dead for nearly 10 minutes. This film isn’t happy just ripping apart the suggestion that “good without a god” is a reasonable ideology; it also has to reward its believers with miracles while depriving others of life. “Do You Believe?” is no-holds-barred in its adherence to “faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself,” but it’s so aggressive in that message that it excludes and offends practically everyone else—and the complete confidence with which it does that is the film’s biggest problem.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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