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