Saturday night at the 2014 Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF), I had the rare pleasure of getting to experience the premiere of a film made in Austin, Texas, from up-and-coming local filmmakers, Will Bakke (director), Michael B. Allen (writer), and Alex Carroll (producer) of Riot Studios. This being their first feature narrative, it was a big deal to have it featured as a centerpiece film in the festival and screened at the Texas Theatre in front of friends, family, festival goers, and those involved in making the film happen. An added bonus was having in attendance certain cast members such as Christopher McDonald, Alex Russell, Max Adler, Zachary Knighton, Sinqua Walls, and more.
Going into this screening, I knew very little about this film other than the basic description, and that it was a Christian movie. With several “God-themed” films at the box office recently, it made me speculate on the content of the religious message. I was surprised to find a light-hearted, comical presentation that allows the viewer to have a good time and make his/her own interpretation of the content. At a glance, “Believe Me” appears to mock or poke fun at various Christian stereotypes and the idea of believing in something. However, it does so to serve the ultimate purpose of showing its characters that the very thing they are imitating actually has some substance and truth to it.
This film begins as a very relatable depiction of four friends, Sam (Alex Russell), Baker (Max Adler), Tyler (Sinqua Walls), and Pierce (Miles Fisher), in college during their senior year, somewhat self-absorbed and involved in the fraternity/party scene. In an amazing cameo by Nick Offerman as a college counselor, Sam suddenly finds out his scholarship has expired, and he begins to panic. Shortly after a visit to church, Sam comes up with an idea to create a fake charity to make money with his friends. After some convincing, the four decide to proceed with the plan, and following a fundraiser to promote their new venture, they are approached by a national organization which is willing to send them on tour around the country. The four friends quickly find themselves in over their heads as their charity and message to Christians about helping improve the world becomes a reality. As their charade goes on and the risk level continues to rise, they begin to see the error in their ways and must decide whether to keep going or call it quits.
One of the best elements of this film is also one of my few complaints. The film is simple and light, not forcing a message. It doesn’t beat you over the head but tells a humorous, unique story that honors the audience by allowing them to have their own feelings and opinions. At the same time, it touches on a variety of themes, faith, love, deception, etc., but possibly does not expand far enough. I have mixed feelings over whether I would like to have seen more in certain places. For example, possibly expanding the relationship between Alex and Callie (Johanna Braddy), a girl who is involved with the national charity. Or possibly having one of the four main characters getting more involved in religion, detailing their beliefs, or giving less buildup and more resolution of the storyline. That being said, I think the correct choice was made to keep these details simple, making this film carefree and enjoyable for just about anyone. The film succeeds in making the audience think and want more.
Audio and sound was an issue. For some reason, there were times when you could barely make out what the characters were saying. It either sounded like mumbling, faint echoes, or other sound effects or noises getting in the way. This problem seemed to get better as the movie went on. I’m only making this point because one of the biggest strengths of this film was the dialogue, and as to not miss out on any words spoken, the audio was not clear enough at times for the audience to be able to make out everything.
The film is filled with a mix of fresh, young actors, and a few established, veteran performers. The chemistry amongst these characters and the ways they play off each other is spot on. There is considerable content that most people can associate themselves with, including religion, faith, college and post-college life, and much more. The audience is entertained with a collection of humor throughout, be it deadpan, sarcasm, implied, one-liners, or straight up funny jokes and dialogue. The director/editors make good use of varying scene transitions and complimentary effects, such as fading to black, video montages, uplifting music, captions on the screen, and flashbacks.
“Believe Me” is a film worth seeing. If its only purpose is to make you laugh, give you something to think about, and a good presentation to watch, it does its job well. It ends rather abruptly, with a cliffhanger of sorts, and in the end, turns out to be quite the smart satire, as it secretly pulls at your emotions, presents a subtle, ironic message, and shows the characters the errors of their ways.
In full disclosure, I did grow up and go to high school with the filmmakers of “Believe Me,” but from someone who has reviewed a fair amount of films and works on the production side of film, I am sincerely and thoroughly impressed with what these guys have done and how far they’ve come. If all goes right, you’ll hopefully see this film in theaters later this year, so be on the look out and don’t miss an opportunity to see it.
Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars.
The rating and run time for “Believe Me” is currently not available.
There are tons of other screenings, red carpets, and special events during this year’s Dallas International Film Festival, so don’t miss you chance to attend one of these wonderful presentations for yourself. You can go online here to purchase tickets or visit the Prekindle Main Box Office in Mockingbird Station. Enjoy the festival!
Hayden Pittman is a special contributor to WFAA.com and a freelance film critic and entertainment blogger out of Dallas. More of his content can be found on YouPlusDallas.com and his author archive here. He is a film, TV, and sports enthusiast, and hopes to pursue a future in filmmaking and screenwriting. As an average, passionate film lover who rarely misses a film, his reviews are straightforward and his way with words will let you know in a simple way what he thinks. Don’t like what he has to say? Let him know at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @HPMoviePitt.