[Screen It]


(2023) (Joel Courtney, Kelsey Grammer) (PG-13)

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Drama: Various people find and participate in a late 1960s Christian movement when a middle-aged pastor invites a hippie evangelist to join his church and help spread the good word.

It's 1968 and Chuck Smith (KELSEY GRAMMER) is a pastor whose Newport Beach, CA-based Calvary Chapel church has seen better days. With dwindling numbers, it needs an infusion of more youthful congregants and he and his wife Kay's (JULIA CAMPBELL) teenage daughter Janette Smith (ALLY IOANNIDES) delivers that when she picks up hippie Lonnie Frisbee (JONATHAN ROUMIE).

He's traveled there to spread the good word and quickly wins over Chuck who has him speak during his service, something that doesn't sit well with the older, stuffy members, but starts drawing in a younger crowd.

At the same time, Greg Laurie (JOEL COURTNEY) is a teenager who lives in a seaside trailer with his single mom (KIMBERLY WILLIAMS-PAISLEY) and attends a local military academy. But he ends up drawn to the hippie lifestyle when he meets Charlie (NICHOLAS CIRILLO) who introduces him to fellow teen Cathe Martin (ANNA GRACE BARLOW). Along with her sister Dodie (MINA SUNDWALL), Cathe has joined the counterculture movement and quickly convinces Greg to come along, helped by the fact that he's romantically drawn to her.

After bad drug incidents, their paths eventually lead them to Lonnie and then Chuck's church that's grown in popularity among the hippie generation. As that unfolds, and as Lonnie starts to believe in his growing prophet status, the various characters must contend with the repercussions of what becomes dubbed the "Jesus Revolution."

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We'd all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We're all doing what we can
But if you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait

"Revolution" by Paul McCartney & John Lennon

There's a moment in the film "Jesus Revolution" where a character states that the truth is always quiet while the liars are always loud. While that's accurate in almost every aspect of life, I found it appropriate for how many so-called Christians nowadays have taken an inherently good thing -- the teachings of Jesus and the core principles of Christianity -- and weaponized those to dismiss, discredit, and attack anyone who doesn't look, act, or have lifestyles like them.

Yes, I know most Christians don't behave that way, but the loudest ones certainly do, and that's what's refreshing about the early moments in this film from co-directors Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle (who work from a script Irwin penned with Jon Gunn) that's based on real-life people and events that eventually led Time Magazine to write about and put "The Jesus Revolution" on their front cover.

In the introductory moments of this two-hour film, we meet Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer), the stuffy, buttoned-up preacher of a church in late 1960s Newport Beach who looks down his nose at the counterculture hippies he sees on TV. Following in the tradition of all teenagers across all time periods, his daughter (Ally Ioannides) half-playfully views him as a "square" who's out of touch with the times. To his surprise and outrage, she ends up bringing one such hippie back home with her.

He's Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie) whose last name would, on the surface, seem made up and thus raise additional red flags. But as he genuinely seems interested in spreading the good word, he quickly wins over the preacher who sort of sees him as the second coming of Christ (no doubt helped by the physical resemblance or perhaps some sort of precognition that the actor would play the Messiah in "The Chosen" decades later).

With a dwindling number of parishioners at his church and Janette being the only young person there, Chuck thinks it would be a swell idea to invite Lonnie to speak during a service. All of which drives the stuffy regulars crazy while also luring in others who look and act like Lonnie. That eventually includes Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney) who shows up there with his hopeful girlfriend, Cathe (Anna Grace Barlow), who've both delved into the acid-heavy world of hippiedom only to see the light (thanks to some related trauma) and desire a rebirth of sorts.

The aforementioned refreshing part stems from Lonnie opening Chuck's eyes to both accept and welcome with open arms those who are different into their fold, and the feel-good warmth of such moments is intoxicating.

Thankfully and despite what follows dampening some of that, the filmmakers don't keep everything all sunshine and roses, with Lonnie soon falling prey to his own prophet-style fame (and edging toward cult leader status -- although the film conveniently ignores the real-life man's sexuality). There's also Greg maintaining some long-ingrained doubts that Christianity might just be the latest thing in his life to generate feel-good hope only to disappoint him (a subplot revolves around his father abandoning him and his now unstable mother -- played by Kimberly Williams-Paisley).

While the film loses some steam in its second act (along with the earlier feel-good vibes), the performances are generally good and it's undeniably a polished production (religion-based films have come a long way in that regard from their amateurish beginnings). It also thankfully avoids the preaching to the choir storytelling behavior that bedeviled, so to speak, so many earlier faith-based flicks.

In the end, I hope that the revolution and evolution of Christianity is that those who are currently the loudest (in a bad way) watch the film, see the light, and amend their ways to behave more like Jesus and those who follow in the spirit and acts of his teachings, particularly regarding acceptance. "Jesus Revolution" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Posted February 24, 2023

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