It is not often these days that you get a Hollywood studio release born out of the late-’60s and ’70s hippie movement, but in blending a true-life faith-based story with the uninhibited counterculture of the time, you have Jesus Revolution. It’s the latest spiritual exercise from the Erwin Brothers’ Kingdom Story Company virtual factory of inspirational faith-based films that really took hold with their 2018 smash hit I Can Only Imagine and more recently included the Kurt Warner football story American Underdog.
Unlike many films in the genre, which find their greatest box office success in the South and Midwest, the Erwins don’t dwell on pounding the message into their movies (thank God for that), but there is no question that belief in God when you might be at the lowest point of your life, questioning everything, is a key component, and clearly they look to real life for their inspiration.
Jesus Revolution it seems was born again out of the juxtaposition of two Time magazine covers separated by four years. First there was the infamous “Is God Dead?” in 1966 and then a psychedelic graphic of Jesus in 1971 fronted by the line “The Jesus Revolution” signaling rebirth — at least for Time. This film, which is directed by Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle, and scripted by Erwin and Jon Gunn is not just faith based but also fact based. All the key characters are drawn from real people, most notably Greg Laurie (who co-wrote the book on which the film is based) played by The Kissing Booth’s Joel Courtney, a lost and troubled young man who also had to deal with an alcoholic mother (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), who was married seven times, and not even being sure which was his father.
Things begin to change when he meets scruffy hippie Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie), himself disillusioned by the free-love, drug-induced circles in which he traveled but who has discovered a greater high just might come from Jesus. Like the Artful Dodger, he takes Greg under his wing but also finds the most unlikely ally in the world, the conservative pastor Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer). He is resistant to Frisbee at first but soon realizes that the way to save and transform his own church just might be to merge this so-called Jesus Revolution with his own aging congregation. Lives are changed in the process, and an odd couple is born.
Erwin says he has been wanting to bring this particular story to the screen for a long time, probably correctly thinking it could resonate in today’s divided world where it seems impossible to bring those with differing beliefs and lifestyles together as one. The period film he has made feels old-fashioned, like something out of a time capsule, but one good-hearted and sincere enough to spread the word to those open enough to take it all in. This ultimately is what you call a “feel good” movie. There should be a place for it.
The cast is game, particularly Roumie as Frisbee (who died in 1993), a spirited hippie messenger of faith. The actor also also is playing Jesus in the TV series The Chosen, and that seems like a logical next step. Courtney is effective as Laurie, who is still alive and pastor of the Harvest Christian Fellowship as well as consultant on this film. Grammer is solid here as the man of religion who finds a new way to spread the gospel. There isn’t a whole lot of diversity on display here, but DeVon Franklin as Josiah is effective in his few scenes. Although clearly shot on a budget, the production design, costumes and general look of the film seem authentic enough, though Once Upon a Time In Hollywood this is not.
Producers are Kevin Downes, Jon Erwin, Andrew Erwin, Daryl Lefever, Joshua Walsh and Jerilyn Esquibel. Lionsgate opens it Friday only in theaters.
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