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365体育投注Why attend classes, when you can sit on the quad and make music? Despite herself, Melissa (Britt Robertson) can’t help being attracted to the relentlessly cheerful Jeremy (K.J. Apa) and the songs that flow effortlessly from his fingers. Courtesy photo

Arts

‘I Still Believe’: Worship overload

‘I Still Believe’

Three stars 

Starring:365体育投注 K.J. Apa, Britt Robertson, Gary Sinise, Nathan Dean, Shania Twain and Cameron Arnett

Rating: PG, for no particular reason

Biographical saga blends music with cloying melodrama

By Derrick Bang
Enterprise film critic

Faith-based films defy conventional commentary.

They’re a breed apart, with but one goal in mind: targeted specifically to the reverential fans who pack Christian music concerts by the thousands, their eyes closed during each song, one arm raised, palm open, toward heaven.

Discussing such films in the usual manner can’t help feeling mean-spirited … but when one wanders into the mainstream market, that certainly makes it fair game.

“I Still Believe” is based on powerhouse Christian musician Jeremy Camp’s 2003 memoir of the same title — written when he was but 25 — and this film clearly takes a deferential approach to his story. Those familiar with Camp’s career won’t be surprised by any of the major events that occurred during his early 20s; uninitiated — but savvy — mainstream moviegoers likely will anticipate the significance of this film’s title.

Scripters Jon Erwin and Jon Gunn set this saga in a world of perfect harmony, where people never get angry or argue with each other; where everybody calmly expects and accepts the inevitability of destiny; and where almost everybody is white. Even in Southern California. (Which, it must be said, is ridiculous.)

We meet Jeremy (played with sincerity by New Zealand’s K.J. Apa, currently hot as Archie Andrews on TV’s “Riverdale”) as he’s about to leave his Indiana home to attend Calvary Chapel Bible College, in Murrieta. Money is tight, but Jeremy’s parents — Tom (Gary Sinise) and Teri (Shania Twain) — nonetheless send him off with a gorgeous new guitar.

Freshly arrived at college, Jeremy has no trouble evading security to get backstage at a concert by Christian rock/worship band The Kry, where he impulsively chats up lead singer Jean-Luc LaJoie (Nathan Dean); he immediately takes a shine to this brash young fellow and allows him to be part of the off-stage crew.

(Hey, it could have happened that way. Right?)

During the concert, Jeremy locks eyes with an adoring fan — Melissa Henning (Britt Robertson, at 30 a bit long in the tooth for this role) — and boom, that’s it. When they subsequently flirt, and she gently rebuffs his eager overtures, he pulls out the ultimate response: “What if God wants us to be together?”

In the real world, that line would earn a scornful glance and quick departure. (It certainly garnered an “Oh, brother” from viewers during Tuesday evening’s preview screening.)

But that’s par for the course here, and you gotta just roll with it. After all, this is a movie where Jeremy and Melissa never are seen attending class — except once, briefly, and solely for another romantic exchange of glances — and where they don’t seem to have any other friends; even their respective roommates remain ciphers.

Nor do Jeremy and Melissa have to make ends meet with part-time work or any of the other details that affect the rest of us. This is a very enclosed universe.

Indeed, this film’s first act suffers from almost unbearable saccharine overload, both from Erwin and Gunn’s maudlin script and from the similarly beatific atmosphere delivered by Jon and Andrew Erwin (known professionally as The Erwin Brothers). They and cinematographer Kristopher Kimlin favor tight-tight-tight365体育投注 close-ups, the better to showcase Apa’s radiant smile.

Truly. Jeremy always365体育投注 smiles, no matter what the circumstance or line of dialogue. He’s just, well, a naturally cheerful and accommodating guy. All the while, he’s also writing songs and playing that guitar; Jean-Luc naturally is impressed, and even (surprise!) allows Jeremy to perform a song during one of The Kry’s subsequent concerts. Where this newbie upstart is greeted with ear-shattering cheers.

365体育投注Things just work out, well, perfectly. (Don’t they always?)

Robertson exudes a similar glowing sincerity, although Melissa’s life is a wee bit more complicated; Jean-Luc is sweet on her, and she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings, despite her rapidly growing attraction to Jeremy. That’s as close to “tension” as this film gets, and it doesn’t amount to much.

365体育投注Things take a turn in Act Two, thanks to an unexpected crisis, ratcheting this story’s “faith” aspect into high gear. After which, the melodrama is ladled on with a trowel.

365体育投注In fairness, Apa and Robertson are endearing together, particularly during brief sequences that feel real-world genuine. She persuasively sells Melissa’s fondness for the local planetarium and her insistence that nothing compares to seeing a nighttime starry sky from an ocean-bound sailboat. That sentiment circles around later, to maximum impact.

Sinise also has a stand-out scene toward the end, when he delivers the sort of wise father-son chat that we all wish to have experienced, at such a moment. Again, it feels authentic.

By which point, I confess to being moved. Somewhat.

But — alas — even that was spoiled, by a sermonizing finale that applies The Moral with a sledgehammer. (Faith-based cinema isn’t known for its subtlety.)

Given the appropriate mindset, this can be viewed as a sweet, heartfelt little film with a poignant message: not a bad thing, in these divisive and cynical times.

Still, this story’s atmosphere is too rarefied — frankly, too false and contrived — to be taken seriously. Even though it’s Based On Actual Events.

— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at http://derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at redaslaoui.com.

CalMatters


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