Sunday, April 5, 2015
'Believe Me' DVD: By Young Christian Texans for Young Christian Texans
The Riot Studios film "Believe Me," which is a recent DVD release, is most entertaining in the context of the PG-style "Entourage" like 20-somethings behind the movie. This tale of three white middle-class Texas boys (and their black friend ala the Winstons of "Ghostbusters" and "New Girl") who are fresh out of college seems to be a fictionalized adventure of the college buds who helm Riot. This extends to the prominent Christian themes in "Believe" that reflect the informal Riot mission statement.
Online interviews with writer/director Will Bakke (and speculation that anyone in the position of Bakke would cast himself as the self-described "smart, handsome, and charming" lead) strongly suggests that he bases group leader Sam on himself. Brief conversations with "Believe" producer/former college football jock Alex Carroll suggests that he provides the inspiration for the slovenly Baker. That leaves unassuming buddy Pierce to writer Michael B. Allen.
A (not-so-wide) generation and geographic gap hinders assessing whether the Riot boys or their fictional counterparts are guys with whom one would want to hang at the neighborhood bar on a Friday night. Personal tastes run more toward sharing that experience with a more congenial lot.
"Believe" opens with a cliched scene set just before the climatic moment at the end of the film. We then quickly go back several months to near the end of the college careers of this southwest version of Vincent Chase and his posse.
Sam simultaneously learning that his college scholarship has run out and that he owes roughly $10,000 in tuition prompts him to form (and justify) a scheme involving a fake Christian charity. The purpose of the non-existent "All's Wells That Ends Wells" is to dig wells in Africa to provide the natives clean drinking water.
A one-night-stand in the form of a local fundraising event that is designed to dig Sam out of his hole (of course, pun intended) leads to the boys getting in deeper (of course, pun intended) when Christian tour "Cross Country" producer Ken (played by Christopher McDonald) seduces this "God Squad" into spreading their message in a multi-city tour right after their graduation.
Getting our boys on the road introduces them to hilariously mediocre Christian rocker Gabriel, perfectly played by former "Happy Endings" cast member and current "Weird Loner" Zachary Knighton. This character may not steal the fictional show in the story but does make off with the film.
Pangs of conscience among the group and a threat of exposure drives the film to the aforementioned climax. The suspense extends beyond whether Sam will return his wages of sin to whether he will confess his transgressions to the fans who placed their faith (and their funds) in him.
The unfortunate theme of the analysis of the sometimes amusing "Believe" must be disappointment. This begins with the the Bakke Street Boys promoting the involvement of "Parks and Recreation" star Nick Offerman in the film in a manner that suggests that he at least has a substantial supporting role. Offerman's Sean is a college official whose part is limited to a roughly five-minute scene in which he informs Sam of the debt of the latter.
Offerman does a decent job with his typical off-beat performance. His repeatedly asking Sam "are you cool" just before pouring himself a drink during their on-campus meeting and later making a sarcastic remark about Sam being the only college student with financial difficulties are highlights.
This is just one example of the makers of this C+ film, which seems that it far outpaces the recent higher profile "Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas," not living up to their potential. The combined concept of a crooked evangelist and college boy stereotypes seems to have limitless comic potential, but the intentional and unintentional humor is very limited here with the exception of 27 year-star Alex Russell clearly being too old for the role of Sam.
Additionally, our good ole young men are in the indie-film rich area of SXSW Festival base Austin, Texas. It seems that they could have found folks who present indie quirk, dystopian cynicism, or plain ole drama better.
Again, this is not to say that the Rioteers did not do a decent job; many others simply have done what they attempted much better. The aforementioned disappointment includes the interest in this film relating to an expectation that it would be more like a production of the fantabulous L.A. collaboration "Dances With Film" than an above-average student film. This boils down to simply having realistic expectations regarding this film, which is far better than the Unreal TV panned Soderbergh film "Magic Mike."
The DVD extras include (arguably apt for Texas) trailers, outtakes, and deleted scenes.
Folks who are interested in reading about some of the plethora of indie flicks that Unreal TV loves and that created higher expectations for "Believe" are welcome to check out the all-time reader favorite "Unhung Hero," the review of the terrifically quirky "Walter," and the post on the Robert Redford produced "Drunktown's Finest."
Wanting to conclude this discussion on a more positive note, I invite the three amigos to send DVDs of any future productions that they feel address the shortcomings of "Believe."
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Believe" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.