Film Review: The Case for Christ

Not exactly open-and-shut.
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An investigative journalist takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of one of history’s biggest mysteries in The Case for Christ. Based on Lee Strobel’s best-selling book, this religious-themed drama earns points for proselytizing in more narratively compelling form than usual. But while the film is watchable and features some effective performances, suffice it to say that it isn’t exactly All the President’s Men.

Set in 1980, the story revolves around Lee (Mike Vogel), an award-winning reporter for the Chicago Tribune and an avowed atheist, along with his wife Leslie (Erika Christensen). His life suddenly changes when his young daughter nearly chokes to death at a restaurant. The little girl is rescued by fellow diner Alfie (L. Scott Caldwell), a nurse. When the grateful parents remark how lucky it was that she was there, Alfie solemnly intones, “It’s not luck. It’s Jesus.”

The fateful experience causes Leslie to seek Alfie out and attend church with her. Much to Lee’s consternation, it isn’t long before his wife becomes born again. During a heated argument about her newfound faith, he bitterly comments that he’s “going to file a missing person report.”

Desperate to convince his wife that her beliefs are mistaken, Lee decides to investigate Christianity for the purpose of debunking it. One of his colleagues suggests he prove that Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead, pointing out that such a revelation would cause the religion to fall apart “like a house of cards.”

And so Lee doggedly pursues his story, lining his basement with notes and photographic evidence as if he were tracking down a serial killer. He consults experts in various fields, including medicine, archeology, religion and, most amusingly, psychiatry, the last in the form of a famous shrink (Faye Dunaway) who instantly diagnoses that he has daddy issues. And indeed he has, as evidenced by a scene in which Lee’s parents come to visit their new grandchild and Lee coldly rebuffs his father (Robert Forster).

The story of Lee’s anti-Christianity quest is interwoven with another storyline involving his investigation into the shooting of a police officer. But while the subplot strengthens the character’s journalistic bona fides, it adds little to the story other than providing the opportunity for Frankie Faison, playing Lee’s hard-boiled editor, to fulminate like Perry White.

That Lee is an atheist is made manifest by his constantly acting like a jerk, including drinking heavily, accidentally terrifying his little girl and whining to Leslie, "You’re cheating on me with Jesus!" She, on the other hand, displays infinite love and patience with her husband, proving that—as was also shown in the faith-based film War Room—Jesus makes an ideal marriage counselor.

It isn’t hard to guess the film’s conclusion, in which Lee learns the errors of his ways and finally embraces faith, although as religious declarations go, “All right, God, you win!” doesn’t exactly feel divinely inspired.

Vogel, sporting the sort of ’80s mustache favored by male porn stars, does well by his leading role, and Christensen makes her character’s conversion dramatically credible. The appearances by Dunaway and Forster are so brief that they seem mainly designed to enhance VOD sales, but the old veterans nonetheless deliver like the professionals they are.

The Case for Christ won’t garner many new converts, especially since the evidence presented, at least in the film, proves sketchy at best. But it will certainly please the faithful, and proves more engrossing than most films of its ilk. The movie is also notable for the unique MPAA explanation of its PG rating: “For thematic elements including medical descriptions of crucifixion, and incidental smoking.”--The Hollywood Reporter

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