A kind of Magnolia for conservative evangelicals who prefer their movies to look like network dramas, Do You Believe? juggles two dozen parallel and intersecting lives, climaxing in a rain-slicked multi-car crash that happens simultaneously with a backseat birth and two deathbed scenes, with one of the deceased immediately brought back to life and cured of cancer via miracle. (There is also a shoot-out and an explosion.) Characters include: a saintly ex-con; a homeless mother and daughter who live in a vintage-car-show-quality 1977 AMC Gremlin; gangbangers named Kriminal (presumably not an homage to the Italian comics character), Li’l B (presumably not an homage to the cult rapper), and Nefarious; and a smug atheist whose lack of Christian values prevents him from understanding why people would care for strangers, despite the fact that he is also an ER doctor.
Set in Chicago, but very clearly shot in a small town in Michigan, with a blurry skyline digitally composited in, Do You Believe? constitutes one of the most bogus depictions of urban life to ever grace a movie screen. (It’s this Windy City-based publication’s civic duty to point out that inner-city ambulances don’t serve suburbs, and certainly not Kenosha, Wisconsin, and that 213 is the area code for downtown Los Angeles.) This is the big city as imagined and visualized by someone who seems to have never been to one, a world cropped off at the second floor, where everybody drives everywhere, and people drink coffee from Tim Hortons cups, their index fingers positioned awkwardly to cover the logo.
Written and co-produced by Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon, the duo behind last year’s God’s Not Dead, the movie represents a slight step forward, in that it at least briefly considers evangelical Protestantism as a form of Christianity rather than a consumer group to be shamelessly pandered to. Briefly is the operative word there, because despite paying some lip service to religious faith, what the movie mostly deals in are the same last-minute conversions, fantasies of victimhood and persecution, and deus ex machina miracles that have become staples of the so-called faith-based film industry. The world has no shortage of Christian art, and certainly no shortage of movies that tackle Christian themes, but those are more often than not founded on a relationship with the unseen. What movies like God’s Not Dead and Do You Believe? offer is a fantasy of God—and not even a good one.
As is often the case, that fantasy takes the form of a soap opera populated by B-list actors. They vary in credibility, from Brian Bosworth’s and Ted McGinley’s surprisingly thoughtful turns as the aforementioned ex-con and his pastor, to Sean Astin’s smirking, eye-rolling take on the obligatory secular bad guy. These are united by a year’s worth of ludicrous General Hospital plotting, in which two different childless couples are gifted children because someone conveniently died, a woman attempts suicide by eating Chinese takeout, and a bag of stolen money endlessly changes hands. What these are supposed to converge on, per McGinley’s narration, is the image of the cross; what they instead add up to is a deranged melodrama where any sense of soapy, campy fun is undercut by the preachy, self-serious tone.