The most vivid images of the ‘70s are those that show how the self-proclaimed hippies rejected conventional ways to embrace a lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. But, it was also a time of great religious awakening by many of the same group in what became known as a Jesus Movement.

That embrace of the teachings of Jesus spread across the country in such a massive wave that Time Magazine dubbed it the “Jesus Revolution.” Writer/director Jon Erwin and co-writer Jon Gunn examine this moment in history with the new film “Jesus Revolution.” Their film is based on a true story.

Their examination is done through three key storylines. Kelsey Grammer turns in one of the strongest performances of his career playing Chuck Smith. The pastor of a small Southern California church desperately has been trying to maintain his faith but it has been shaken by the lack of parishioners in his pews.

His spiritual salvation comes in the form of Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie), a long-haired, sandal-wearing, charismatic hippie-street-preacher who spouts Bible scriptures like a scholar. He has been looking for a place to share his beliefs and that comes through Smith’s decision to open his church to Frisbee and his hippie friends. That leads to a large group of young people descending on the church in Southern California to find spiritual truth.

Giving the film a personal focus is Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney), a high school student who feels stifled by the restrictions he has to face at home and at school. A major part of his personal turmoil has been caused by his being raised by a single mother (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) who is fighting addiction demons.

Triggered by his attraction to a free-spirited young woman (Anna Grace Barlow, “The Big Leap”), Laurie sets out to find what is missing in his soul. He finds his answer with the new counterculture crusade that is making history.

The film has several strong performances but it is Grammer who gives the movie the solid dramatic core it needed. The moments Smith is struggling play out as very real. It would have been easy to let the performance lapse into some melodramatic moment where Smith shakes his fist at the heavens and asks why God has forsaken him. That doesn’t happen but Grammer delivers a performance that is just as powerful.

It is the kind of work that lifts everyone up around him including Roumie. His character straddles that line between someone who has rejected conventional ways but is beginning to be drawn in by the power of his own success.

This is a film without a real villain but the journey Roumie’s character takes creates the kind of tension such a role would provide.

What ends up being the least interesting is Courtney’s character. That is surprising as the film is based on his book Jesus Revolution.

All of the elements are in place from struggles with his mother to his search for salvation. He never fully embraces the character and that makes it difficult to accept him as a major player in this tale. It doesn’t help that Barlow’s portrayal of a suburban hippie looks like a scene from a high school production of “Hair.” She gives Courtney no support.

Erwin has shown with his past work – from “I Can Only Imagine” to “I Still Believe” – that he understands the best way to present a faith-based film is with a subtle touch. He doesn’t have to worry about the converted as they have already embraced the message.

What Erwin does so well is deliver his message in a way that is more accessible to the masses. This is the kind of film that needs to get to a broader audience and Erwin has structured this film to be welcoming.

The problem is it may be a little too much. The “Jesus Revolution” tends to turn the other cheek too often when it comes to the history of this movement in the ‘70s. This was certainly a time of spiritual awakening but the devastation and pain caused by the drug culture of the time was just as powerful. This film tends to shy away from such issues.

Despite the muddled history elements, the production ends up offering enough insight into the power of faith, prayer and acceptance that it gets a strong message across.

Movie review

Jesus Revolution

Grade: B-

Cast: Kelsey Grammer, Joel Courtney, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Johnathan Roumie.

Director: Jon Erwin

Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements, drug use

Running time: 120 minutes.