“Do You Believe?” is a “Crash” for the Christian cinema. A star-studded weeper about faith and how one comes to it, “Believe” takes over an hour before it gives away its connections to “God’s Not Dead.”
So what had been a slow, sad, preachy but positive experience about a dozen interconnected people renewing their belief or first discovering it, becomes another cynical slap at “enemies” of Christ, according to “God” screenwriters Chuck Konzelamn and Cary Solomon. Their scripts cannot resist tossing bile-stained red meat to Christian conservatives — attacks on the educated, the professional, non-believers and “humanists.”
Ted McGinley is the preacher-narrator, a man whose compassion extends beyond his congregation as he takes in a homeless pregnant teen (Madison Pettis). Not that his wife (Tracy Melchior) approves.
EMT Bobby (Liam Matthews) can sympathize. He pushes a crucifix into the hands of a dying man he is treating, and is threatened with a lawsuit. His wife (Valerie Domínguez) doesn’t get it.
Her brother (Joseph Julian Soria) is a disturbed veteran whose nightmares make him suicidal. Fortunately, he meets equally suicidal Lacey (Alexa PenaVega) on the bridge they’re both about to to leap from. That’s a clever scene, rather feebly handled by the script and director Jon Gunn.
He worked with Oscar winner Mira Sorvino in the less faith-based “Like Dandelion Dust.” She shows up here as a homeless widow with a cute daughter (Makenzie Moss) with a cloying speech impediment who lures ex-con Joe (Brian Bosworth) and later a grieving couple (Cybill Shepherd, Lee Majors) into taking them in.
Delroy Lindo is a street preacher who hauls a giant cross around on his shoulders.
“Do you believe in the cross of Christ?”
He’s a counter-balance to the somewhat racist conservative portrayal of young black men in a gang (Senyo Amoaku, Shwayze).
Sean Astin and Andrea Logan White play an atheist doctor with a “God Complex” who doesn’t believe in miracles, and a lawyer with humanist leanings.
The meandering movie is on safe footing as it wanders from soup kitchens to church to hospitals. But the bile bubbles up when the writers, like Fox News producers looking for ways to insert “liberal” into each hour’s content, celebrate people of faith in uniform and attack the “godless” for being so “sure” that they’re not witnessing miracles.
When little Lily (Moss) describes the car she and Mom live in when the shelter (this is set in Chicago) is full, my first thought was “AMC Gremlin.” That turns out to be the case. They’re living in a classic restored 1970s car. A miracle? No. A lucky guess, and a movie cliche.
Which Konzelman and Solomon traffic in — cliches, absurd plot contrivances that drive the story. Stripping this to a film with fewer characters, maybe playing up the best actors giving the best performances — McGinley, Lindo, Shwayze and PenaVega stand out — would have helped.
But that wouldn’t have allowed room for the religious politics, the hectoring victimization that works its way in.
This could have been a better, more hopeful and embracing faith-based film. But as in “God’s Not Dead,” the screenwriters figure there’s more money to be made from baiting and working up the faithful, than in inspiring them.