I’ll give the Christian filmmaking company Pure Flix credit, their movies are improving by very small amounts. Last year’s God’s Not Dead 2 was a bad political advertisement disguised as a courtroom drama. It literally ended with a list of cases the movie was inspired by, and served no purpose other than preaching to the already converted.

    Their new film, The Case for Christ, is a little slicker and less obvious. It’s based on the book of the same name by former Chicago Tribune journalist Lee Strobel. This picture is the story behind the writing of it. To be fair, there’s half of a competent, interesting narrative here. You’ll easily pick out when those parts are, cause they don’t beat you over the head with a message that you must believe before exiting the theater.

    The other parts? Yikes. Longtime Christian film director Jon Gunn saturates this movie with so much Jesus-approved condescension with non-believers you’ll want to gag out the God. It doesn’t help that Strobel’s wife is portrayed as a nag that basically forces her newfound religion down Lee’s throat.

    You see, this story all starts with a gum ball. The Strobel’s daughter (Haley Rosenwasser) chokes on one during a family night out, and is saved from choking to death by a kind nurse (L.Scott Caldwell). The woman is a devout believer in Jesus, and her faith inspires Leslie Strobel (Erika Christensen) to check out a local church.

    Lee (Mike Vogel) is too wrapped up in his life as a cut-throat investigative journalist to notice. He just finished an acclaimed investigation on malfunction in Ford Pintos, and prides himself on using facts to seek the truth.

    He’s also a diehard atheist, the kind that tells his daughter that God is a fairly tale just before she goes to bed, so sleep on that kiddo. This is where you can tell that Pure Flix has gotten more clever; in the past, they’ve painted non-believers as outright villains with no conscience. Here, those people just make fun of God and question it. But no matter how they’re presented, they all end up looking stupid (and/or wrong) once the film’s over.

    That’s not to say that Strobel is an angel here. His investigative reporting gets a man wrongly thrown in jail. He’s portrayed as a drunk that knocks over a table in an argument. Nobody, not even his wife, ever seems to enjoy being around his arrogant self. Clearly, he’s a man that needs saving.

    I would just say his wife is the last one who should be trying. If Lee is flawed, then Leslie is just as bad. She keeps pushing her husband to believe what she does, at one point even urging him to come to church because she knows he’ll do what she wants to make her happy. I don’t have the exact phrasing, but that’s exactly how it came across. 

    Nobody in a sane relationship would say that to their partner, regardless of what their views are. No person would also attempt to disprove the resurrection of Jesus Christ just to get their wife to stop talking about it either. I won’t judge the real-life Strobels, but their movie counterparts had a marriage that wasn’t worth saving.

    The investigation has some fascinating parts to it, but is hamstrung by its desired point of view. Lee questions numerous people in the scientific and religious communities, all of whom spout the same pro-Jesus view point. Only at one point does he visit an agnostic doctor (Faye Dunaway) to help him prove that those who watched the crucifixion experienced mass delusion. She responds by asking if his daddy issues are making him question God so much.

    What kind of visit is that? More importantly, why does the movie only stuff one somewhat non-believer in what’s supposed to be billed as a fact-finding quest for the existence of Jesus? Those are journalism skills that would get you kicked out of your school newspaper. 

    Oh wait, that’s right, because we have a point to get to here. Lee eventually finds evidence to prove his wife (who’s been literally praying for him to change) completely right. They both become Christians, and he proposes writing a piece on his conversion for the Tribune

    Because there’s massive ethical issues involved in letting an investigative reporter (who’s supposed to be objective) write a very slanted personal story on a sensitive topic like religion, his editor laughs him out the door. So what does his wife propose? That he write a book entitled The Case For Christ. Take that Liberal Media for turning him down. 

    The interviewing scenes would be interesting if Strobel the movie character wasn’t such a crap journalist. He lets others willingly spew out lies like “because I benefit from gravity, does that mean it exists?” without questioning them. Bald-faced stupidity disguised as persuasive facts take you out of scenes that should be immersive. It happens a lot here.

    Not to mention Strobel comes off as less of an investigative reporter and more of a gadfly. He ignores what others are telling him and gets smarmy and/or changes the subject when challenged with evidence. If I want to watch the debate tactics of Fox News pundits, I’ll just watch their network instead of this. 

    Look, I don’t disapprove of this film because of it’s views. There are some difficult nights were I’ve thought about the existence of a higher power. I want a film to intelligently explore faith and how it conflicts with a secular society. But despite the attempts to make it look less preachy, The Case for Christ is too afraid to really examine every angle of the Jesus debate.

    While watching this, I couldn’t help but think of last year’s songfest Sully, which would’ve been a better 60 minute documentary on the Discovery Channel than a full-fledged film. I have similar feelings about this, except it should’ve been expanded and included atheist voices as well.

    Vogel and Christensen are both terrific, and the scenes where they fight over their growing differences are compelling. There’s an interesting movie in that concept, to the point where it might’ve been better if the filmmakers went with a completely made up story, rather than having to follow Strobel’s life.

    At this point, the possibility of getting a movie like that is somewhere between proving a unicorn exists and Jesus was resurrected. Call it a Unicorn Jesus film you will. Pure Flix movies can’t take serious questioning of their own faith, only the kind that’s so egregiously straw man you can’t take it seriously. 

    Tonight, I’ll go to bed praying to Unicorn Jesus for a good, intelligent movie about faith to come along.

    A small side note: Strobel appears as himself in “God’s Not Dead 2”, as a witness for the defendant, one who helps prove Jesus is a historical figure. One could argue this film is then a prequel of sorts. If this means Pure Flix has some real cinematic universe garbage going on, then God truly help us all.

Published by Jagger Czajka