First it's lively Christian satire, then it's thoughtful moral reckoning. The two modes under which Will Bakke's Believe Me operates never merge into a cohesive whole, but in a year in which so many successful Christian-themed movies -- Heaven Is for Real et al. -- have strived for grave seriousness, the initial spunk of Believe Me proves refreshing. But Bakke's comedy is marked by self-satisfaction: In the opening minutes, one character states, "Sometimes people do want to be lied to," and then Bakke predictably cuts to the title card. But he doesn't stop there: He leaves the "lie" in Believe hanging for a split second, so you know how clever all of this is.
The appealing Australian actor Alex Russell (Chronicle) stars as Sam, a college senior whose drunk counselor (a one-scene Nick Offerman) informs him of a crisis: Sam's scholarship has expired, leaving him $9,000 short of what he needs to graduate. Sam enlists his closest fraternity brothers to help him create a bogus charity, with the end goal of pocketing the cash donations of generous Christians. But Sam's phony, Africa-focused mission -- "Project Get Wells Soon" -- also catches the eye of an oblivious Christopher McDonald, who propositions the group to campaign their charity act across the country.
The early scenes of these college dudes pounding beers and plotting cash-grabbing schemes have a kind of Social Network–type delight -- Sam's breakdown of various Christian-appropriate poses, one of which he dubs "The Shawshank," is a highlight — but the movie loses its zip as it becomes more dramatic, paling in comparison to the warmth and sensitivity exuded in the work of Stephen Cone (The Wise Kids), another independent, faith-themed filmmaker.