"Jesus Camp," a documentary on Christian evangelicals in suburban Missouri and Kansas, is like an unduly long outtake of the Borat ministry scene, minus the humor. They praise Jesus, they speak in tongues and they run around, but there's no funny man in the crowd to make us feel sane, or safe.
To make matters worse, "Jesus Camp" is mostly about children, whom we meet individually throughout the first third of the film, then watch converge on a summer camp run by a Pastor Becky Fisher. It's worrisome enough to watch agitated, unsophisticated adults run off at the mouth with misbegotten notions. It's agonizing to watch their indoctrinated kids repeat it. Pastor Fisher's camp is called "Kids on Fire." You could guess that means they are afire with the spirit, but it's never easy to tell what Pastor Fisher means. She has the kids dress up in camouflage outfits and dance like a junior youth group Cirque du Soleil, and the sermons she gives make no more sense.
"Jesus Camp" also looks at a Midwestern Christian radio personality who warns his audience of a national evangelical takeover of government, as well as of the large population of evangelicals at their so-called Mecca in Colorado Springs, Colo. There, the filmmakers interview Ted Haggard, leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, adviser to President Bush and recent scandal victim.
Despite Haggard's recent struggles, "Jesus Camp" could have used more time with him and his adversaries on the national front. The film is alternately amusing and disturbing, but it's not the most in-depth investigation. There is little context given to scenes of wailing and doctrine spouting by marginal people, and the viewer is often left to wonder what it all adds up to. By concentrating on such a small portion of the population, the movie risks coming off like a glimpse at a menagerie of kooks rather than a revealing study of a movement. You don't walk away from "Jesus Camp" with any revelations. You just feel icky. (PG-13) **S
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