'Faith Based': Film Review

Jason Alexander Faith Based Still 1 -Lone Suspect Publicity-H 2020
Courtesy of Lone Suspect
Unapologetically irreverent.

Vincent Masciale’s second feature is a humorous sendup of the Christian film industry, co-starring Luke Barnett and Tanner Thomason, with support from Jason Alexander, Margaret Cho and Lance Reddick.

Also known as Faith Ba$ed, the title of Vincent Masciale’s satire about the conflicting priorities of the Christian film industry might suggest a mean-spirited takedown of this fast-growing and very profitable niche market. Instead, Masciale and screenwriter Luke Barnett, both Funny or Die regulars, have crafted a playfully humorous sendup that’s more about poking fun at their characters than tearing down faith-based filmmaking. With a cast that includes Jason Alexander, Margaret Cho and Lance Reddick in supporting roles, Faith Based looks like a natural fit for comedy-oriented fests and streamers.

Not exactly as lowbrow as Dumb and Dumber or its sequels, Masciale’s second feature follows two dimwitted buddies who seize on the misguided idea of producing a faith-based film by drawing on their scant familiarity with Christianity and fundamentally opportunistic motivations. Overgrown adolescent Luke (Barnett) still hasn’t found a good reason to opt for adulthood and now in his early 30s, he’s still cleaning swimming pools for a living. If further evidence of his lifelong immaturity were required, Luke shares a rental in the Los Angeles suburb of Reseda with his childhood best friend Tanner (Tanner Thomason), another slacker holding down a bartending job mostly for the free booze. Luke considers himself an entrepreneur and supplements his meager income by selling weight-loss teas, or attempting to anyway, since he’s not much of a marketer.

Even so, he’s a big fan of the company’s CEO Nicky Steele (a toupee-wearing Alexander), whose barely concealed pyramid scheme strings along dimmer bulbs like Luke with promises of wealth and power. Luke’s dad Mike (Reddick), the pastor of a local church, isn’t at all impressed by his son’s dodgy ideas of success and wants him to just get a real job and some semblance of an adult life. If he could just be more like his overachieving younger siblings, both born after Pastor Mike and his late wife adopted Luke, then Mike could worry less and relax more. Instead, his talk about the incredible profitability and ongoing success of faith-based movies inspires Luke’s next get-rich scheme: shooting a Christian movie and making millions from ticket sales to the faithful. Never mind that he has no filmmaking experience and isn’t particularly religious, because if he can rope Tanner into the plan, this dysfunctional duo might just have a shot at niche-release glory.

Masciale and Barnett, who previously teamed on the 2016 horror-comedy Fear, Inc., not only question whether faith-based filmmakers actually hold Christianity or profit in higher regard, they also parody the independent filmmaking process as Luke and Tanner attempt to pull together a production crew and cast. Initially they struggle with ridiculously reductionist guidance from a couple of self-serving industry execs (played by Cho and Chris Marquette in a shamefully brief scene), who coach them on their version of the key tenets of Christian cinema.

Once they’ve solidified the concept for A Prayer in Space, about a stranded astronaut on a Mars mission reciting the first-ever extraterrestrial prayer, they have to figure out how to create the VFX for a terrifying space monster and persuade washed-up action star Butch Savage (David Koechner) to take on the role of God. Although Alexander’s Nicky Steele isn’t involved in the production, he does turn up at an opportune moment to offer Luke some New Age platitudes about motivation and success.

Barnett latches onto the role of Luke like it was written for him (since it was), imbuing the character with all the motivational deficiency of a work-averse dreamer who finally discovers his unique calling and then overcompensates for past under-performance. Thomason, another Funny or Die alum, plays Tanner as more than just Luke’s loyal sidekick, demonstrating a determination to break free of their codependent relationship to explore the opportunities that a life of faith has to offer, until his well-intentioned plans inevitably go sideways.

Alexander nails Nicky Steele’s faux-savant poser act and absurdly impenetrable observations, like “The only thing standing between you and your dreams is you, and your dreams,” with ruthlessly false sincerity. Despite the film’s pointed commentary on faith-based movies, Reddick maintains his dignity as Pastor Mike, submitting to good-natured ridicule with grace and humor.

Faith Based began drawing fire from conservative pundits almost as soon as production plans were announced, with Breitbart News describing it as “Christian bashing.” While that characterization certainly exaggerates the pic's gently satirical tone, it's sure to go on generating spirited discussion with further exposure.

Production companies: Lone Suspect, Title Media
Director: Vincent Masciale
Screenwriter: Luke Barnett
Cast: Luke Barnett, Tanner Thomason, Jason Alexander, Margaret Cho, David Koechner, Lance Reddick, Chris Marquette, Christoph Sanders, Carly Craig, Danielle Nicolet
Producers: Luke Barnett, Vincent Masciale, Tanner Thomason, Giles Daoust, Timothy Kerigan
Executive producers: Catherine Dumonceaux, Matthew Emerson, Lance Reddick
Director of photography: Will Stone
Production designers: Andrew Kim, Frida R. Oliva
Costume designer: Maggie Clapis
Editor: J. Patrick Southern
Music: Dustin Morgan
Venue: Santa Barbara International Film Festival

90 minutes