KJ Apa and Britt Robertson in I Still Believe (Photo: Lionsgate)

I STILL BELIEVE
★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY The Erwin Brothers
STARS KJ Apa, Britt Robertson

The problem with faith-based films isn’t just the sledgehammer proselytizing and the insulated us-against-them condescension but also the shoddy production values. The spoken-to choir may not mind, but others understandably have trouble with movies that feel no more professional than a skit performed by a third-grade class.

After churning out a few films of this nature, Andrew and Jon Erwin (billed as The Erwin Brothers) found their footing with 2018’s I Can Only Imagine. With an excellent central performance by J. Michael Finley, a “name” supporting player in Dennis Quaid, and a general air of competence, this biopic of MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard walked and talked like a bona fide motion picture rather than a GOP campaign pledge — no wonder it became a breakout hit ($83 million stateside) that played beyond its target audience.

The siblings’ latest picture, I Still Believe, follows suit: Like I Can Only Imagine, it’s a true story that’s crafted as a compilation of well-worn cinematic clichés and melodramatic beats, but it’s offered in a slick manner that never interferes with what’s being presented.

This one is also a musical biopic — in this case, the story of Christian singer-songwriter Jeremy Camp (played by Riverdale’s KJ Apa) and the love of his life, Melissa Henning (Charlotte native and Tomorrowland star Britt Robertson). Meeting in college, the two almost immediately fall in love, but their romance is interrupted by the fact that Melissa’s body is riddled with cancer. Remaining by her side, Jeremy proposes to her, even though he knows their marriage will be short-lived.

The unique angle of this picture is about remaining faithful to God not when miracles occur (which is easy) but even when terrible things transpire. The movie doesn’t shy away from examining this conflict, although the answers it provides may not always satisfy. Jeremy’s dad (Gary Sinise) states that his life is full not despite the tragedies but because of them. So his life is full because his son’s wife died? That’s a sentiment that smacks of “There but for the grace of God go I” or “Better her than me.” Jeremy nods understandingly; I think a more appropriate response would be a punch in the nose.

Nevertheless, I Still Believe has its sincerity in the right place, and its polished skill makes it easier to have faith in similar upcoming projects.

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