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film review

Kelsey Grammer as Chuck Smith in Jesus Revolution.Dan Anderson/Lionsgate

  • Jesus Revolution
  • Starring Kelsey Grammer, Jonathan Roumie and Joel Courtney
  • Directed by Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle
  • Written by Jon Gunn and Jon Erwin
  • Classification PG; 120 minutes

Jesus is having a moment.

I first noticed it when the bearded prophet popped up in a Super Bowl commercial promoting an evangelical Christian website, leaving viewers wondering why one of the most well-known figures in history needed publicity. And the release of a new film called Jesus Revolution starring Kelsey Grammer makes it clear the big guy is staging a comeback.

The movie opens on a sun-soaked California beach strewn with hippies getting born anew in the salty ocean waves. A bell-bottomed Grammer is standing on the beach chatting with a reporter, describing the moment as an “experience.” From the very outset the costumes and music feel straight out of a satire of the 1970s, like an AI-built naive fantasy of what was happening, man, in the flower child era.

Cut to a year earlier, we meet Chuck Smith (Grammer), an uptight (“square”) pastor whose dwindling congregation has seen better days, as he spends his sermons decrying the scary young people he sees on TV dropping acid and refusing to bathe. Pastor Chuck makes an offhand comment to his more “with it” daughter about wanting to ask a real-life hippy what it’s all about and she takes him to heart, bringing a bearded, caped man named Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie) into the Smith home.

Jonathan Roumie plays Lonnie Frisbee, a bearded and caped man who spreads his particular hippy-soaked gospel to the Smiths' church.Dan Anderson/Lionsgate

Frisbee spreads his particular hippy-soaked gospel to the Smiths’ church, bringing a hoard of unwashed love children and their beaded vests to the congregation, creating an uproar with the older worshippers and starting a revolution behind the church’s small doors.

At the same time, a young man named Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney) is having his own awakening. Laurie is rebelling against a ne’er do well, alcoholic mother (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) and a deadbeat dad who’s out of the picture. When he meets a group of far-out high school kids, he finds Janis Joplin, acid and love, all in short-order. When Laurie’s girlfriend Cathe’s sister has a near-death experience, they both go looking for something more meaningful and find it in Frisbee and Smith’s church.

Jesus Revolution is based on the real-life story of Laurie, an author and pastor who co-wrote a book by the same name about his relationship with the Jesus movement that took place on the American west coast in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The “Jesus freaks,” as they were often called, helped influence much of what is now contemporary Christian culture, including Christian rock and gospel music. Laurie went on to start his own church, the Harvest Christian Fellowship, which has become one of the largest in the U.S. He was even part of Donald Trump’s National Prayer Service during his 2017 inauguration.

Jesus Revolution is based on the real-life story of Greg Laurie, an author and pastor who co-wrote a book by the same name about his relationship with the Jesus movement that took place in the ‘60s and ‘70s.Dan Anderson/Lionsgate

Directed by Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle, two Christian filmmakers, the movie bills itself as more than just entertainment. The creators are looking to spread the good word and encourage moviegoers to do the same in a special message that opened the screening I saw.

It’s easy to be dismissive of the moviemaking, in what often feels like a church production of Hair. Other times it felt like watching an infomercial hawking something that already has billions of people buying what they’re selling. Although I’m not really sure who Jesus Revolution is for – much like how Super Bowl viewers wondered about the ad for Christ – it’s hard not to be curious about the roots of a religious movement that has such a stranglehold on modern American politics. At least in that regard, it wasn’t time entirely wasted.

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