DVD Review - Believe Me

There's some comparisons to be made here to The Wolf of Wall Street. Both films are about a young, white man who comes up with a scheme to swindle people out of money, both by talking their way through it and making people believe in something that arguably isn't real. Both have slow-motion, partying montages and both end similarly with the protagonist on a stage in front of a crowd giving a speech. Both even cut to black on a question. Yet, The Wolf of Wall Street is a far better film and it's a far funnier film. It's not as watered down as this movie, which doesn't go far enough. This movie might be too short. It's half the length of the Martin Scorsese comedy and feels like it's also half as baked.

Alex Russell (Chronicle and Unbroken) stars as Sam Atwell, a college senior in Austin, Texas, who is about to graduate and go on to law school. He's also the head of his fraternity who walks around like a king with the fraternity pledges attending to his every whim. He's knocked down a peg when he realizes that his scholarship ran out a semester ago and now he owes $9,000 to the school. After he attends a church fundraiser, he gets the idea to trick church-goers to donate to a worthy cause when really he's going to pocket the funds for himself.

Sam gets three of his frat brothers to join him in this scheme. Tyler, played by Sinqua Walls (Friday Night Lights and Teen Wolf), is the black moral compass. Pierce, played by Miles Fisher (Final Destination 5 and J. Edgar) is the spoiled brat, and the devil on anyone's shoulder. Baker, played by Max Adler (Glee and Switched at Birth) is the loyal and faithful idiot in the middle.

Sam and his friends call themselves the "God Squad" and their scheme is called Project Get Wells Soon, which pretends to aid impoverished children in Africa. Their initial fundraising event on school campus attracts the attention of a legitimate, Christian non-profit called Cross-Country. Ken Hopkins, played by Christopher MacDonald (Happy Gilmore and Requiem for a Dream), is the head of Cross-Country. He is a total supporter of Sam and company. One of Ken's employees is Callie, played by Johanna Braddy (Avatar: The Last Airbender and Greek). Callie is a bit skeptical but she comes to trust Sam completely.

Through the character of Callie, we get representation of someone who is genuine about her religious faith and her desire to do charity. Through Sam and his friends, we get posers who mimic those of faith and re-affirm the faith, not for higher or greater purposes, but for personal, selfish ones. Directed and co-written by Will Bakke, it never feels like his protagonist or friends are ever truly mocking the people of faith, even though that's an apparent side effect, but it also seems as if Bakke wants to take Sam on a journey that is either not properly conceived or not properly executed.

At the end, Sam is on stage giving a speech that tells a metaphorical story about himself and his dilemma. In the scene prior, Sam is challenged to tell the truth about what he's done. During the speech, it seems as if he might tell the truth. He doesn't. He stops almost mid-sentence and the movie cuts to black and end-credits roll. Bakke perhaps thought this would be a cool, open-ended conclusion, but it speaks of gutlessness.

Max Adler (left) and Alex Russell in 'Believe Me'
In fact, a better movie might have been the fallout of people learning that they were so tricked by Sam. A more interesting analysis would have been some examination of the Christian movie-within-this-movie called Saving Grace. Bakke makes it so melodramatic, over-the-top and rather awful in terms of dialogue that it's a wonder what Bakke's thinking was when he inserted Saving Grace. Did he want it to be a random comedic moment? Or, was he saying something about those kinds of films?

This movie is tolerable, mainly due to my crush on Max Adler. He's not featured enough. A really, great, deleted scene led by him was cut from the movie, as well as several others, and I wish those scenes weren't cut. First off, Adler looks great, even in his tank tops, shorts, glasses and scruffy beard. He's funny. He's interesting and a good young actor. But, in general, more from Max Adler, Sinqua Walls whose character comes across as sensitive and Miles Fisher who comes across as a jerk would have been appreciated.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for some language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 33 mins.


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