'The Masked Saint': Film Review

The Masked Saint Still - H 2016
Courtesy Ridgerock Faith
A born-again 'Death Wish.'

A pastor moonlights as a masked wrestler and vigilante in Warren P. Sonoda's religious-themed drama.

Combining religious, wrestling and vigilante plotlines into its unholy mix, The Masked Saint at least should be given credit for having the courage of its convictions. This faith-based drama "inspired by true events" (a phrase that hereafter has lost all its meaning) manages to be dumb on so many levels that, well, it simply has to be taken on faith.

The title character is Chris (Brett Granstaff, who also scripted), a nice-guy wrestler who performs under the moniker "The Saint." Early in the proceedings, shortly after telling his sleazy wrestling promoter (the late, great Roddy Piper, in his last screen role) that he's abandoning the ring to become a pastor, his decision is reinforced by a bout with the menacing, 300-pound "The Reaper" (James Preston Rogers) that goes disastrously awry.

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Suffering the sort of devastating cinematic leg injury that has him barely able to walk on crutches in one scene and running on the basketball court the next, Chris moves with his ever-encouraging wife (Lara Jean Chorostecki of Hannibal) and ever-adorable young daughter (T.J. McGibbon) to a rundown, crime-ridden Michigan town where he becomes the new pastor in a Baptist church.

The church is down on its heels, its sole source of support being an obnoxious, blowhard businessman, Judd Lumpkin (yes, that's the name of the character, played by Patrick McKenna) who promptly withdraws his support after being put into a "sleeper hold" by Chris during a heated argument. When Chris discovers that he doesn't take naturally to his new profession — "Faith is great," he stammers during his first sermon — he's taken under the wing of church elder "Miss Edna" (Diahann Carroll), who turns out to be a secret wrestling fan and encourages him to get back into the ring to prop up the church's finances.

But things become rather more complicated after Chris dons his mask and intervenes when he sees a pimp (Dwain Murphy) terrorizing one of his prostitutes (Danielle Benton) as she's praying in an alley. It goes so well — "You're a saint!" the grateful hooker tells him — that he again springs into action when he happens upon a diner being robbed. The dramatic act spurs the suspicions of a local detective (Mykel Shannon Jenkins), resulting in the two men engaging in a cat-and-mouse game that includes Chris being suckered into a police line-up.

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Its dialogue — featuring such platitudes as "You must never judge a book by its cover," "The Lord never gives us more than we can handle" and (my favorite) "Where in the Bible does it say Thou Shalt Not Wrestle?," the film lurches from one unintentionally funny scene to the next. The most irredeemable characters, most notably, and egregiously, a vicious wife beater, are suddenly transformed into contrite do-gooders. And the vigilante subplot, resembling a church sermon version of Death Wish, seems mainly designed as a vain attempt to attract exploitation movie fans.

Long before the climactic scene, in which an unmasked Chris steps back into the WFW ring (a more appropriate acronym would be WTF?) with the word "Saint" emblazoned across his ass, you'll be wondering if the whole film was secretly just a sly send-up.

Production: P23 Entertainment, Ridgerock Entertainment Group
Distributor: Freestyle Releasing
Cast: Brett Granstaff, Lara Jean Chorostecki, T.J. McGibbon, Diahann Carroll, Roddy Piper, James Preston Rogers, Mykel Shannon Jenkins
Director: Warren P. Sonoda
Screenwriters: Scott Crowell, Brett Granstaff
Producer: Chris McDowell
Executive producers: Gary Granstaff, Joe Sisto
Director of photography: James Griffith
Production designer: Peter Mihaichuk
Editor: Aden Bahadori
Costume designer: Anya Taraboulsy
Composer: Roger St-Denis
Casting: Beverly Holloway, Larissa Mair

Rated PG-13, 111 min.