JESUS REVOLUTION (2023) – Very Vanilla Take on Historical Religious Movement


JESUS REVOLUTION (2023) is based on the true movement in the early 1970s when hippies discovered Jesus Christ, which would make perfect sense, since hippies were all about peace and love, concepts which mirror Christ’s message.

The film obviously contains a heavy Christian slant, no doubt intended to be more inspirational than historical, but the truth is it has little to offer in the way of inspiration because the story simply preaches to the choir, and if you aren’t Christian, there’s nothing in this movie that is remarkable or telling. As such, it fails to portray this revolution as something that was real. The story and characters just go through the motions.

JESUS REVOLUTION gets off to a solid start, focusing on frustrated minister Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer) who laments that his church is mostly empty and struggling, and that he doesn’t understand the youths of today, who he sees as lost and disrespectful. He tells his teenage daughter Janette (Ally Ioannides) that he wishes God would send a hippie to his house so that he could understand them. And so, when Jannette meets a hippie named Lonnie (Jonathan Roumie) who speaks of Jesus, she brings him home to meet her father, who isn’t thrilled by having this stranger in his house.

But after a rough start, Chuck finds himself impressed with Lonnie, and he invites him and his friends to his church. Suddenly, more and more of Lonnie’s friends arrive, and after Lonnie preaches at the church, the building becomes packed with hippies, which causes a stir among some of Chuck’s more prominent parishioners. In a sermon, Chuck speaks of the open door at his church, which is both an invitation for everyone to come in, and also an exit, for those who no longer feel comfortable by the younger folks who have now become part of the community.

The story follows Lonnie’s rise in the church where he also becomes a healer, and this storyline early on works. However, the film also follows another young man searching for answers, Greg (Joel Courney), who along with his girlfriend Cathe (Anna Grace Barlow) join Chuck’s church. Greg and Cathe are two of the least interesting characters in the movie, and their stories, Greg’s dealings with his ailing mother and with Cathe’s overprotective father, are the weakest in the movie, yet as the film progresses, these storylines become the focus of the film. Which is no surprise, because the screenplay by director Jon Erwin and Jon Gunn is based on the book by the real-life Greg Laurie.

Lonnie, after an argument with Chuck, disappears for the latter half of the movie, which is too bad because he’s the one character who brings the most conflict with him. In one of the better conversations in the film, Chuck tells Lonnie that he mistakenly thinks that the movement can’t proceed without him, and he tells Lonnie that the movement is bigger than just one man.

But unfortunately, most of the rest of the movie is without conflict. The screenplay by Jon Erwin and Jon Gunn is largely superficial. For example, in the big baptism in the ocean sequence, we see characters baptized and immediately afterwards experience a religious epiphany, but no one in the movie says why or how. No character explains what just happened to them. We just see it, and we take their word for it that they are now saved.

The pacing to this one is also dreadfully slow. The movie runs for 120 minutes and feels longer. Director Jon Erwin seems to be content with telling this story without a sense of urgency or history. The characters remain superficial, the conflicts nonexistent.

Strangely, the Netflix horror TV mini-series MIDNIGHT MASS (2021) — a horror tale, mind you! — did a better job of capturing the religious beliefs of the characters in its story than anything shown here in JESUS REVOLUTION.

I enjoy watching Kelsey Grammer, as I’ve always been a fan of his hit show FRASIER (1993-2004) back in the day, and he was the main reason I went to see this movie, and as expected, he turns in a solid performance here as minister Chuck Smith. He gets some of the better scenes in the movie. There’s a notable conversation between Smith and his wife, when he’s worried about offending the big vocal donors in his church, where she tells him that truth is always quiet, and that it’s lies that are spoken out loudly, a sentiment which rings true. He says it’s complicated, and she reminds him that truth is simple. Truth usually is simple, but unfortunately, this movie doesn’t do a good job of speaking to truth.

Jonathan Roumie is quite good as Lonnie Frisbee, and Ally Ioannides has some nice moments as Chuck’s daughter Janette, but the rest of the cast is as bland as the overall story told in this one.

At the end of the day, JESUS REVOLUTION is a very vanilla take on a historical religious movement. There’s no dark side, no ugliness, no pain, and that certainly gets in the way of successfully trying to tell a story of light. Now, the plot has these moments, as we see the negative effects of drugs on some people, and we see Greg upset about his mom, but these interpretations are all so weak and bland, like a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Also, whether intentional or not, JESUS REVOLUTION works against its own main message of religious inclusion in that there isn’t one person of color who is a major character in this movie. Not one.

Not the best decision for a movie that is supposedly about inclusion and the welcoming of all.

I give this one a bland two stars.



Four stars – Perfect, Top of the line

Three and a half stars- Excellent

Three stars – Very Good

Two and a half stars – Good

Two Stars – Fair

One and a half stars – Pretty Weak

One star- Poor

Zero stars – Awful

RISEN (2016) Doesn’t Rise Up



I have to admit, I was intrigued to see RISEN because it was poised to tell a story not often told in the movies.  Most movies about Jesus focus on his life and ministry.  Few tell the story about what happened immediately after he died.

RISEN tells this story from the point of view of a Roman soldier given the task of locating Jesus’ dead body to prove to his followers that he in fact did not rise from the dead.  This part of the movie works well and plays like a period piece drama/mystery, but then writer/director Kevin Reynolds takes the easy way out during the movie’s second half, telling a story of conversion that plays like a Sunday school sermon rather than the continuation of the impressive drama which came before it.

As such, RISEN plays like two separate movies:  a gritty detective story during its first half, and an everybody-sing-“Kumbaya” tale during its second.

Needless to say, I enjoyed the first half of this movie much more than the second half.

Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), the Roman Military Tribune, is ordered by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) to oversee the crucifixion of a man charged with being a Messiah.  Pilate fears him because he’s concerned about revolution, but he also intimates to Clavius that there was something different about this man—.

Clavius is present when this man, Yeshua (Cliff Curtis) dies on the cross. Later, when Pilate is pressed by the Jewish high priests to make sure no one sneaks into the tomb to steal Yeshua’s body and make it seem like he rose from the dead, he orders Clavius to post guards.  Unfortunately for them, the guards get drunk, and when they awaken, Yeshua’s body is gone.

Disgraced and under intense pressure by Pilate, Clavius makes it his personal mission to find Yeshua’s body in order to prove that the man has not risen from the grave.  Clavius decides that if he can locate Yeshua’s followers, then he can find the body, and thus the manhunt begins.

And it continues until Clavius finally locates the apostles, bursts in upon them, and finds Yeshua sitting there among them.  At this point, everything changes for Clavius.

Everything changes for the audience as well.

The first half of RISEN is interesting, fresh, and all rather compelling. Joseph Fiennes is excellent as Clavius.  He’s the perfect doubter, the perfect soldier for the job.  If anyone there can get to the bottom of the mystery and locate the missing body, it’s Clavius.  Nearly all of Fiennes’ scenes during the first half of the movie are enjoyable to watch.

And he receives fine support from Peter Firth as Pontius Pilate and Tom Felton as his understudy and protege Lucius.  I also enjoyed Maria Botto as Mary Magdalene.

There’s an authenticity to the first half of RISEN that is refreshing and sharp.

But once Clavius discovers Yeshua, the authenticity takes a back seat to Sunday school sermons, and that’s because writer/director Kevin Reynolds simply plows forward with the resurrection story and Clavius’ subsequent conversion without much effort in making either one of them all that believable.

Sure, I understand that for Christians the world over the story of Jesus’ resurrection is already believed, and for moviegoers who don’t believe the story of a man who claimed to be God’s son and rose from the dead is a pretty hard sell.  But this doesn’t matter because for any movie to work it must be believable.  Now, since the second half of this story is indeed a “hard sell” you’d expect an even greater effort to make it seem real, but little if any thought seems to have gone into telling this part of the story with the mindset that it best be believable.

When Clavius sees Yeshua alive, I want to see it questioned.  I want to see Clavius resist and refuse to believe at first, which would be consistent with his character.  I don’t want to see smiling apostles and lighthearted conversations and Clavius becoming a willing participant so easily he doesn’t even worry about his position as Roman Tribune.  I want blood and sweat and angst, not warm grins and pats on the back.  I don’t think that’s how it all went down.  It comes off as way too neat and tidy.

Likewise, in scenes where Yeshua sits with his apostles after rising from the dead, and then instantaneously disappears like a magician, I found this phony.  It’s just not the way the things work in this world of ours, and whenever any movie equates religion and spirituality with magic it raises a red flag for me.  It also calls to mind movie-making laziness.

I’m not questioning the events told in the movie.  I’m taking issue with the way they were presented.  Something tells me that when Yeshua was with his apostles, and then he wasn’t, that it didn’t happen in a way that he disappeared into thin air, and I expected the movie to make more of an effort to make me believe that this really happened.  Show me a real world way that a man is with you one moment and gone the next.  He could have at least stepped into another room or into the shadows.  But to be there one moment and then poof!  He’s gone!  That simply is not worthy of this story.

Also the apostles are depicted as being incredibly happy folks.  Now, sure, their leader, Yeshua, has actually risen from the dead, so I understand that of course they’re excited.  But these were dangerous times for the apostles- their lives were in danger, mortal danger, and I found their happy-go-lucky attitude way too syrupy sweet and fake for my liking. They should have been scared, in spite of Yeshua’s resurrection.

One of my favorite versions of the story of Jesus is Franco Zeffirelli’s JESUS OF NAZARETH (1977), and what I liked most about that version is it made the story believable.  Watch that movie and you get the feeling that yeah, this is how it all happened.  I believe this.

Such is not the case with RISEN.  Nothing in the movie made me believe that Yeshua had risen from the grave.  Yeshua was played by Cliff Curtis, who currently plays Travis on FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, and he’s not bad.  Again, his interpretation of the role is a lot like the second half of the movie- happy and upbeat.

I also didn’t completely buy Clavius’ conversion story.  He is such a strong character early on.  I expected his conversion to be more of an ordeal, more dramatic.  Instead, it just sort of happens.  There should have been more angst, more questioning, to make the conversion all the more satisfying.

Writer/director Kevin Reynolds directed the Kevin Costner films WATERWORLD (1995) and ROBIN HOOD:  PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991) way back when.  I remember when ROBIN HOOD:  PRINCE OF THIEVES first came out in theaters it was royally slammed by critics for not being historically accurate or authentic.

Hmm.  All these years later and Reynolds seems to have run into the same problem with RISEN.  So much for learning from one’s mistakes.  RISEN has a lot in common with ROBIN HOOD in terms of tone, although I would argue that the first half of RISEN is better than all of ROBIN HOOD.

Reynolds co-wrote the screenplay with Paul Aiello, who is also credited with the story.  Hmm.  I didn’t know Aiello wrote the Bible!

RISEN is a mixed bag.  After a promising start and a first half that is very good, the film falters and never quite rises to the occasion.