by Corey Hall
With the election looming, and with Republican gubernatorial candidate Dick Devos’ controversial business background a perpetually hot topic, you’d think the quickie release of a movie about the world of Amway-style multilevel marketing would be like throwing gasoline on a raging fire. Hardly — this movie is pretty mild stuff, and it hits with all the impact of a water balloon.
Believe is not a hardnosed exposé of the evil’s of Amw— er, we mean, "Alticor," but instead a breezy mockumentary in the style of Best in Show or A Mighty Wind. The film follows a number of characters in a dreadfully humdrum Midwestern town that’s been staggered by the recent closing of the local steel mill. With a sudden lack of real employment, the townsfolk find themselves involved with a glorified pyramid scheme called "Believe" founded by fat-cat huckster Howard Flash (Jeff Olson), dubbed the "supreme believer." The business model involves selling second-rate products to your friends and neighbors, and in turn recruiting them to sell stuff so you can earn a commission. This structure turns participants into zealots, none more committed than the wild-eyed, super-pitch man Mark Fuller (Lincoln Hoppe) who’ll go to any lengths to pimp his products, even drinking a bottle of household cleaner to make a sale. Though Mark would never admit it — even his best efforts don’t amount to much — he’s both shocked and deeply dismayed when humble newcomer Adam (Larry Bagby) makes a bundle by signing up his newly unemployed steel worker buddies. This kind of overnight success seems especially rare, but that doesn’t stop a bunch of people from investing everything they’ve got, and clinging to pipe dreams of financial glory.
Not everyone in town buys the hype. Opposition comes from a paranoid anti-MLM conspiracy buff who coats the walls off his secret headquarters with tinfoil, and a politically aggressive secretary of state who wants to bust up the Believe racket to aid in his bid for governor. This all leads to a messy climax at the big company convention (which gets moved to a high school auditorium because the local arena has already been booked for an Air Supply concert). There are some subtle and clever laughs, but too often the humor seems forced, with the jokes clumsily hammered home by improbably named first-time director Loki Mullholland. The no-name cast is likable and eager, but nobody will mistake them for such improv masters as Eugene Levy or Catherine O’Hara. Some scenes just lose steam midway through. The movie clearly has an agenda, but it also has many scenes of people falling down and knocking things over for comedy’s sake. So instead of a political body blow, Believe is merely a pleasant pratfall.
Showing at AMC Forum and AMC Star Great Lakes Crossing.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.