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Review: The Erwin brothers keep the faith and the playbook with ‘I Still Believe’

Britt Robertson and KJ Apa in the movie “I Still Believe.”
Britt Robertson and K.J. Apa in the movie “I Still Believe.”
(Michael Kubeiy / Lionsgate)

If a wall plastered in posters for ’90s Christian bands DC Talk and Audio Adrenaline means something to you, then “I Still Believe” will mean something to you. This faith-based romantic drama preaches to the choir; the Erwin brothers’ film is counting on its audience knowing every word and melody to the story it tells, both literally with the songs of its real-life subject Jeremy Camp as well as in its earnest spirituality and cultural references.

After directing the MercyMe biopic — and legitimate hit — “I Can Only Imagine,” Jon and Andrew Erwin capably tackle the story of another contemporary Christian artist here. Back in 1999, a pre-fame Jeremy Camp (K.J. Apa of “Riverdale” fame, in a more chaste role and bland performance) has left his parents (Gary Sinise and Shania Twain) back in Indiana and is in his freshman year of college in California. He wonders how he can make it big as a musician, and then he meets Melissa (Britt Robertson) at a Christian rock show. He falls hard, but their romance isn’t all joy. Tragedy strikes the young couple when she gets a life-threatening diagnosis, testing his faith through her illness.

Despite a vibrant performance by Robertson, Melissa exists more as a part of Jeremy’s journey, rather than as her own person. The script from Jon Erwin and Jon Gunn doesn’t fully flesh out her character; we just know she loves Jesus, Jeremy and the stars, in approximately that order, but there isn’t much else there.

This isn’t just an issue for Melissa; “I Still Believe” runs almost two hours, but it frequently commits sins of omission. The Erwins’ film misses pertinent details and explanations, whether about Jeremy’s ascending music career or a seemingly random appearance by his family at his school.

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Though it’s based on a true story, “I Still Believe” feels like a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, but written for teens with purity rings or adults who share joint Facebook accounts with their spouses. It’s a romance above all, but one that doesn’t just glamorize love for an earthly partner and instead points toward the importance of pursuing a relationship with Jesus, even through hardship. Those looking for inspiration will find it without looking too hard, but those who don’t attend church regularly will be as bored as they would be by a sermon.

‘I Still Believe’
Rated: PG, for thematic material

Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

Playing: Starts March 13 in general release


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