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As Christian Sports/Superhero Movie, The Masked Saint Impresses

As Christian Sports/Superhero Movie, <i>The Masked Saint</i> Impresses

Theatrical Release Date: January 8, 2016
DVD Release Date: April 5, 2016
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Action, Biography, Crime
Run Time: 111 minutes
Director: Warren P. Sonoda
Cast: Brett Granstaff, Lara Jean Chorostecki, Diahann Carroll, T.J. McGibbon, Roddy Piper

When a struggling church in small-town Michigan asked for a "fighter," they had no idea how literally God would answer that prayer. Unbeknownst to the church board, their freshly-minted pastor is a recently-retired pro wrestling star known as "The Saint."

Chris Samuels (Brett Granstaff) may seem a tad scrawny for a pro wrestler, especially up against the human mountain that is "The Reaper" (James Preston Rogers), but The Saint is agile and strong enough when it counts. The action is fast—and sometimes slow-motion—and occasionally brutal, but always interesting. Wrasslin' fans will enjoy wrestlers' conversations during matches, although the statement that pro wrestling is "acting" (is that a spoiler?) may wound some feelings. Maybe the sight of real-life WWF star Roddy Piper will ease the sting.

Back to the church: when Chris and family arrive, things are bad. Really bad. There are only a handful of members. There's no money apart from the donations of one loudmouth (Patrick McKenna) who thinks he's in charge of everything. The choir should be ticketed for noise pollution. Even Chris's early sermons are so lame he should have asked his seminary for a refund.

Fortunately, Ms. Edna (Diahann Carroll) takes the couple under her wing. Edna is basically a Christian version of June, Carroll's character from TV series White Collar, but that's not a bad thing. Edna's the kind of 'adopted mama' who's as liable to turn up with a plate of cookies as she is to sit you down for a little 'come to Jesus' meeting, should the need arise. And who doesn't need one of those?

So what happens when a guy with fighting skills and a handy mask happens upon a crime in progress? Yep, he steps in to save the day. And it doesn't happen just the one time... which is great except for the suspicious police detective (Mykel Shannon Jenkins) who's not a fan of vigilante justice. It does wonders for Chris's confidence in the pulpit, though.

Chris's wife Michelle (Lara Jean Chorostecki) is the perfect preacher's wife... which does not do the film any favors. Michelle is chipper, sweet, devoted to her family and their calling, and prone to chirping spiritual clichés like "God will never give us more than we can handle" (confession: about the third time she trotted that one out I could not stop the eye roll). Chorostecki does her best with what she has to work with, but if the writers had made Michelle more of a real woman and less of a stereotype, she would have been able to shine.

The same goes for preacher's kid Carrie (T.J. McGibbon), who is appropriately charming—especially when cheering for her dad at wrestling matches—but just a little too consistently adorable for reality. Surely a child who had undergone so much upheaval in her short life could be allowed the occasional tantrum? Maybe she inherited her mom's relentless goodwill. To the young actress's credit, she pulls it off without becoming annoying.

While one of strengths of the story is that it highlights the perils of success as well as failure, the plot gets a little muddy at times. Is the issue that Chris is an anonymous wrestler, or that he's an occasional real-life superhero? One or the other would have been enough, but this is "inspired by true events," so maybe the writers couldn't decide. At least both of his secret lives are entertaining to watch.

Despite its flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed The Masked Saint. The story is both uplifting and interesting and there's plenty of action. But the best part is that it pays viewers the compliment of believing we're smart enough to get the point without bringing the action to a screeching halt in order to explain it to us in stilted religious-ese. If this is the direction Christian films are going, I’m all for it.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol: None that was front and center, but a character is told to go "drink your beer" and some background activity suggested drug deals and abuse.
  • Language/Profanity: Insults are fairly mild and often from little old ladies: “blow-hard” and “turd” and a threat to “kick your butt”
  • Sex/Nudity: Multiple wrestlers are shown in various lycra-clad states of undress but nothing more explicit than gleaming muscles is shown. Prostitutes are shown on the street, getting into cars, etc. and a pimp asks about his “girls.”
  • Violent/Frightening/Intense: The matches are pretty intense; along with the jumping, kicking, dropping, etc. usual to the sport there are several actual injuries caused with intent. Outside the ring several men are shown threatening women. There's a fight with an iron bar used as a weapon, a back-alley brawl, and people held at gunpoint. There's a kid fight, too, that includes some pretty serious punches and a couple of minor injuries.
  • Spiritual Themes: Pride is the major theme: success is sometimes harder to deal with than failure. It highlights what happens when we start to take credit for the work God has done. Forgiveness also comes into play several times, including a powerful scene highlighting the prejudice that sneaks in when we forget we are all sinners.

Publication date: January 9, 2016