What do you think of when you hear the words “Christian comedy”? Sure, there are some stand-up comics worth the price of admission (Jerry Clower, Ken Davis, Chonda Pierce, Anita Renfroe, and a handful of others come to mind).

But what about funny Christian movies? Quick, name two. I can’t either. There’s Mom’s Night Out, which recently released to video. And . . . umm . . . A Google search comes up with a bunch of titles you’ve never heard—and probably wish you hadn’t. (Angels Love Donuts: A Comedy about Dying That Will Change the Way You Live. Really?)

Alex Russell in 'Believe Me'
Image: Riot Studios

Alex Russell in 'Believe Me'

I think it’s because a good Christian comedy film is really hard to make. Get too edgy or bawdy, and you risk offending your audience. Keep it safe and squeaky clean, and you’re probably not going to make many people laugh.

Even more difficult is the limited genre of “Christian Satire.” There’s Saved!, and, well, things get a lot more mean-spirited from there. Dogma. Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

There are scores of books and websites that satirize Christianity. So why is “Christian Satire” almost nonexistent as a film category?

I think it’s because satire is dicey, dangerous work. Audiences are easily insulted, and Christian audiences all the more. Don’t mess with my faith.

Jon Acuff, founder of the satirical website StuffChristiansLike.net, has seen plenty of angry responses from readers—including this one: “Personally, I think you should kill yourself.”

Personally, I think some folks need to lighten up and roll with it—and even learn from it. That is, after all, the point. As a literary device, satire illuminates issues (including absurdities) in a new light. Through the use of irony, exaggeration, and understatement, satire reveals our follies and trivialities. (See Animal Farm and Gulliver’s Travels.)

Undeniably, Christian satire is more difficult, because of its potential to offend. But Acuff knows where to draw the line. In a Relevant article titled “Three Rules for Christian Satire,” Acuff notes that it’s easy to take things too far—into mockery.

“Mockery always has a victim,” he wrote. “Satire doesn’t. Mockery is about wounding someone and leaving a bruise. Satire isn’t that way at all. I define satire as ‘humor with a purpose.’ My purpose is to clear away the clutter of Christianity so we can see the beauty of Christ.

Article continues below

“[Satire] is a tremendous vehicle for truth. It’s like a big mirror: You take an issue and you blow it up so it’s big enough and obvious enough for everyone to see. Then you stand next to it and ask: ‘Is that us? Are we OK with that? Is this what it means to be the Church?’”

That fine line between satire and mockery is a straight and narrow path of there ever was one. Step to one side, and it’s cruel. Step to the other, and it’s soft.

I’m happy to say that the young filmmakers at Riot Studios have found the right balance with their first feature movie, Believe Me, opening today in limited theatrical release (as well as on demand). After a couple of mediocre documentaries (2009’s One Nation Under God and 2011’s Beware of Christians), Riot’s leadership trio—writer Michael B. Allen, director Will Bakke, and producer Alex Carroll—seem to have found their mojo.

Christopher McDonald in 'Believe Me'
Image: Riot Studios

Christopher McDonald in 'Believe Me'

Directed by Bakke and written by Bakke and Allen, Believe Me takes aim at modern evangelical tropes and trappings—worship, prayer, jargon, missions, revivals, and even “Christian apparel”—with just the right blend of snark and kindness. I found myself often snickering and wincing at the same scenes, solid evidence that the film was indeed striking the right balance.

For example . . .

In one scene, a congregation is getting into the spirit as a typical modern worship band plays on stage. The massive screen behind the hipster singer displays the lyrics:




Later backstage, the worship leader says, “We’re supposed to be singing about Jesus, right? So I just cut out all the other words.” Wince, snicker.

In another scene, some non-Christian guys, trying to learn how to blend in, give each other lessons on what they’ve learned from observing the faithful. “When you pray,” says one, “use the word ‘just’ a lot. It’s your saving grace. Also, self-degradation is very popular in prayer. And always say amen at the end.” The other guys nod, and when one of them just later just prays aloud, it’s just a hoot. Snicker, wince.

In another, a character launches a line of Christian clothing called “Cross Dressing Apparel.” (Two winces and a snicker.) Believing that Christians don’t curse aloud, but do think about bad words, he sells T-shirts with slogans like “F Satan!” and “Abstinence Is Bad-A!” (And, surprise, they’re for sale at the official Cross Dressing site. Wince, snicker.)

Article continues below

I could rattle off a dozen more scenes that evoke the same reactions. All that snickering and wincing is a good thing, when received in the right spirit. Sometimes we need to look and laugh at ourselves, when seen from the outside looking in. Co-writer Allen, echoing Acuff, says Believe Me “holds up a mirror for viewers to see themselves and their assumptions from a new perspective.” In that light, we can not only look and laugh, but even learn.

Which is just what happens to this film’s protagonist. Sam Atwell (Alex Russell) is a typical college senior focused on beer, girls, graduation, and law school. But a surprise tuition bill leaves him deep in debt, putting his plans on hold. Sam’s gotta come up with a few grand in a hurry. But how?

He hatches a scheme, and gets three buddies to go along with it. None of them are professing Christians, but they’ve observed enough to assume two things: Christians are generous, and often gullible. So the guys start a sham Christian charity—“Project Get Wells Soon” (snicker, wince), ostensibly to dig boreholes in Africa. But they have no intention of doing any such thing. They plan to pocket the easy money and move on.

When they make their pitch at a campus rally, itinerant evangelist Ken (Christopher McDonald) happens to be in the crowd. Sufficiently duped, Ken thinks Sam and his friends (and their charity) are legit and invites them to hit the road as part of his traveling show. When he says they can easily clear $250K in just a few months, the guys are in.

Johanna Braddy in 'Believe Me'
Image: Riot Studios

Johanna Braddy in 'Believe Me'

Sam and his buds are soon known as “The God Squad,” though again, none of them professes faith. But they’ve learned enough about evangelical subculture that they have little problem getting audiences to buy in. Before long, “Project Get Wells Soon” is rolling in it—“it” being big money. And muck.

Because along the way, as The God Squad gets to know a few real Christians in Rev. Ken’s troupe—including cute event planner Callie (Johanna Braddy), whom Sam begins to crush on—they see genuine faith lived out, up close and personal. Lo and behold, their consciences—especially Sam’s—begin to come to life. So, will they keep the money they’ve been skimming off the top? Or will they fess up and return it?

Article continues below

We won’t say. But the story continues to move along wrapped with plenty of wit, humor, parody, and, yes, satire. It does not wrap up with a tidy bow at the end, a lot like real life. The best part? As the credits roll, you’ll still be smiling while also thinking deeply about your faith, your habits and practices, and issues of integrity in the church. And you’ll be confronted, in the very best way, with some hard questions that demand answers.

That’s the good part. The bad? I might be wrong, but I don’t believe Believe Me will play well for non-Christian audiences. There are just too many inside jokes. Non-believers will see the “Jesus Jesus x16” lyrical gag and go, “Really? Are Christian songs that lame?” (Well, some of them are, but I digress.) Or they’ll see a spoof on “worship postures” that should prompt lots of laughs from “insiders,” but the “outsiders” might just say, Huh?

Another good part: The cast. There’s nary a weak link among the leads, and how often have we seen Christian movies with bad acting? That’s not an issue here. (Note: Nick Offerman of Parks & Recreation is also in the cast, but his role amounts to little more than a cameo in the first few minutes.)

Looks like the guys at Riot Studios have grown by leaps and bounds since we last heard from them. And I, for one, am looking forward to what comes next. Maybe, just maybe, this will be one of those rare indie Christian production companies that can deliver.

Believe me, that would be most praiseworthy . . . times sixteen.

Caveat Spectator

Believe Me is rated PG-13 for some language. There are probably a dozen bad words in the film, pretty slim compared to most PG-13 films. The movie is appropriate for young teens and up, and is excellent discussion fodder for families, youth groups, or just going out for coffee with friends afterward. Is satire the best way to hold a mirror up to ourselves? Why or why not? What do we learn about ourselves—and our church culture—from a film like this? Does it cross the line from satire into mockery? What do you make of the ending? What do you think Sam did next? Yup, lotsa good questions here.

Mark Moring is a CT Editor at Large and a writer at Grizzard Communications in Atlanta.

Believe Me
Our Rating
2½ Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(19 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (For some language.)
Directed By
Will Bakke
Run Time
1 hour 33 minutes
Alex Russell, Zachary Knighton, Johanna Braddy
Theatre Release
September 16, 2015 by Headline Features
Browse All Movie Reviews By: