The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Do You Believe?

Do You Believe? is kind of like Paul Haggis's Crash, but where the theme is Christian faith rather than racial intolerance. It is the new film from director Jonathan M. Gunn (whose Like Dandelion Dust remains one of the best faith-based films to date) and God's Not Dead writers Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon. Movies with explicitly Christian content are hot right now, and it's admirable to see filmmakers trying to deal seriously with issues of faith. Despite some noble intentions, though, Do You Believe? makes several wrong-headed choices that severely limit its potential.

Ted McGinley plays Pastor Matthew, a man of the cloth who has a late-night encounter with a street preacher (Delroy Lindo). This inspires him to give a sermon about how faith without action is meaningless. His words end up impacting many people, including a homeless mother (Mira Sorvino), a couple (Cybill Shepherd and Lee Majors) mourning the death of their adult daughter, a pregnant runaway teen (Madison Pettis), a veteran (Joseph Julian Soria) with post-traumatic stress issues, a man (Brian Bosworth) dying of leukemia, a gang member (Shwayze) second-guessing his life of crime, and a doctor (Sean Astin) with a God complex. These characters' lives intertwine in a variety of ways.

Do You Believe? opens with a quote from James 2:17 that says, “Faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” From there, it proceeds to deliver a really beautiful message about how faith inspires and motivates people to help each other out. All of the characters are damaged in some way, yet they take Pastor Matthew's words to heart and try to put their faith into practice. Whether you consider yourself a Christian or not, you have to acknowledge that a lot of Christian people do good works because their devotion to Christ compels them to. Do You Believe? intends to remind its audience that words are not enough. We're all here together, and we have an obligation to display kindness and compassion to one another – to live according to what we believe. The movie benefits from an appealing cast (no Kevin Sorbo this time!), all of whom are clearly committed to that ideal. Ted McGinley, who most of us are used to seeing in comedic roles, is the strongest player, turning in a sincere performance as the pastor who ignites change all around him.

While the message is nice, the screenplay feels like it was written by a third grade Sunday school class. There's no depth or meaningful development in any of the subplots. Everything stays on a surface level. For example, we learn the characters played by Shepherd and Majors are mourning the loss of their daughter. They then take in Sorvino and her child to create a surrogate family. And that's about it. The most potentially interesting storyline involves a paramedic (Liam Matthews) who gets an accident victim to accept Jesus as his savior in the moments before dying. He is subsequently sued by the man's widow for “forcing his beliefs” on her husband. This could have been a really engaging look at the clashes that sometimes occur between those who believe their religious views are incontrovertible fact and those who do not. Instead, the film uses it to trot out a half-hearted argument that Christians are being persecuted in modern society, then wraps it up with a labored attempt at irony in the end. Dropping all but maybe three of the subplots and expanding them would have been more effective than having eight or nine and treating them with shallowness. There simply isn't enough time to give everything here its full due, so none of it really hits the bullseye.

As was the case with God's Not Dead, Do You Believe? also isn't content to stick with exploring the everyday power of faith. It feels the need to climax with big, dramatic miracles. This leads to a laughably overwrought sequence on a bridge that features the largest cinematic multi-car pileup since The Blues Brothers. So many life-or-death things are happening in the scene that a viewer may feel the need to suppress a laugh (or two, or six). While portraying grand miracles is part and parcel of the genre, it doesn't need to be. Here's a case where the desire to make a Big Statement actually ends up detracting from the thing that's special about the movie, i.e. its look at how powerful faith can be in its simplest, most day-to-day form.

All in all, Do You Believe? falls somewhere in the middle on the scale of recent faith-based films. There are some far worse (Old Fashioned) and some much better (Pass the Light). That's too bad, because the makings of something really special are here. Sometimes the most amazing miracles are the little ones that only happen between two or three people, yet lead to indelible change. Do You Believe? starts off with that idea, but features too many half-baked subplots and too much didactic melodrama to make it pay off as fully as it could have.

( out of four)

Do You Believe? is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, an accident sequence and some violence. The running time is 1 hour and 55 minutes.

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