Directed by: Rob VanAlkemade
Starring: Bill Talen, Savitri Durkee
Unfortunately for everyone involved, the titular question of What Would Jesus Buy? is never answered. I say unfortunately, because learning what the Son of God would purchase with his hard-earned farthings would be infinitely more entertaining than anything else found in this dud of a documentary.
WWJB? is an attempt at the kind of documentary that’s both informative and entertaining, à la the works of Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me (2004). And while there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, there needs to ultimately be some substance or point to it all—something director Rob VanAlkemade has seemingly forgotten. Railing against the evils of consumerism is all fine and dandy—not to mention a point that’s difficult to argue with. But there’s not much else to the film once you dig further than its main point. It’s a movie that’s as shallow as a wading pool.
The film’s use of religiosity—in the form of Rev. Billy and his Stop Shopping Crusade, who are traveling the nation in an attempt to stop the “Shopocalypse”—to make its point is ironic, since WWJB? is as close to anticonsumerist Bible-thumping as one could imagine. There are some valid points made, but the film never does anything but skim the surface of its topic. OK, so most Americans are in credit-card debt; Jesus would probably have been against the exploitation of his birthday; and sweatshop labor is bad. If you’re inclined to think that Wal-Mart is evil, then this won’t come as a shock to you. To compound the matter, nothing in the way of solutions is given—other than to shop local if you have to shop at all (presumably, purchasing movie tickets—even from a corporate-owned theater—is a-OK).
Instead of taking an actual in-depth and critical look at consumerism, VanAlkemade spends the bulk of his time following Rev. Billy (Bill Talen) and his crusade around, a theater troupe based out of New York City, which goes about creating pithy spectacles like exorcising a Wal-Mart sign. It should come as no surprise that Spurlock produced WWJB?, since Rev. Billy is very much cut from the same grandstanding cloth as Spurlock in Super Size Me. Imagine the worst parts of Michael Moore mixed with the most stereotypical parts of Benny Hinn, and that’s pretty much Rev. Billy. If the film had been about Talen and his Rev. Billy persona, that would’ve been fine. Instead, we never see the man out of character, putting his sincerity into question. At other times, it’s difficult to really figure out how reasonable these people even are. Take Rev. Billy’s wife’s laughably far-fetched reasoning as to why their tour bus was rear-ended by a semi. Could it have been the fault of bad driving? No, of course not! It’s obviously because the driver was in a hurry to deliver consumer goods. These kinds of leaps in logic make anything Rev. Billy and his covey have to say a bit hard to take seriously.
In the film, Talen claims all he wants to do is make people stop and think for a minute. But that’s a tough pill to swallow, since his idea of “making people think” amounts to carrying around a crucified Mickey Mouse. Sure, being kicked out of the Mall of America for walking around with a megaphone preaching about the evils of holiday spending will get you on the evening news, but does it actually accomplish anything?
Whatever amusement value is to be had out of Rev. Billy’s shtick grows old quick, not to mention that the idea of a bunch of New York City drama majors ruing the death of small-town America seems more than just a little specious. While WWJB? may have its heart in the right place, the film is ultimately such an uneven botch job that it’s simply impossible to look at as anything other than a one-note gimmick. Rated PG for thematic material and brief mild language.