You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Masked Saint’

An inauspicious first entry in the Christian pro-wrestling vigilante movie subgenre.

Brett Granstaff, Lara Jean Chorostecki, Diahann Carroll, Patrick McKenna, Roddy Piper, Mykel Shannon Jenkins, T.J. McGibbon, James Preston Rogers, Jen Pogue, Dwain Murphy, Danielle Benton, Joan Gregson.

As might be expected from a movie set in the intersecting worlds of evangelical Christianity and pro wrestling, every dramatic beat lands as subtly as a blow to the head in “The Masked Saint.” Adapted from Chris Whaley’s novel partly inspired by his own experiences at the pulpit and in the ring, this gracelessly written and played drama from director Warren P. Sonoda centers around a pugilist pastor who learns too late that pride goeth before a fall, as does playing God with all the pimps and robbers who abound in his community. Veering from broad small-town comedy to heavy-handed vigilante dramatics, and marbled with the sort of spiritual epiphanies typically mastered in Sunday school rather than seminary, this Canadian indie seems unlikely to galvanize the faithful, let alone the unconverted, following its dim opening-weekend performance.

Brett Granstaff plays the fresh-faced, able-bodied Chris Samuels, a Christian husband and father who regularly dons a cross-emblazoned white mask to become “the Saint,” a fighter in a WWE-style company (imaginatively named WFW). We first meet Chris preparing to fight a hulking behemoth named the Reaper (pro wrestler James Preston Rogers), and as could be reasonably predicted from their differences in body type, the bout doesn’t go so well. When we catch up with him sometime later, Chris has retired from the ring and is preparing to move with his wife, Michelle (Lara Jean Chorostecki), and young daughter, Carrie (T.J. McGibbon), to the town of Rolling Spring, Mich. There, he will assume the pastorship of the troubled Westside Baptist, which suffers from record-low attendance figures and crippling debts, as well as a blowhard of a benefactor, Judd Lumpkin (Patrick McKenna), whose steady financial support is small compensation for his bullying personality.

Still, as Michelle is quick to reassure her husband in the movie’s sappy early stretches, “The Lord never gives us more than we can handle.” The Lord, alas, doesn’t seem to have applied the same merciful logic to Scott Crowell and Brett Granstaff’s tortured script, which juggles more than its reasonable allotment of small-town stereotypes: These include the hard-of-hearing old choir director (Joan Gregson), the salt-of-the-earth church matriarch (Diahann Caroll), the battered wife (Jen Pogue) who turns out to sing like an angel, and the repentant prostitute (Danielle Benton) whom the congregation openly scorns before offering their tentative acceptance. It’s the sort of illustration meant to rebuke the smug hypocrisy of the modern-day Pharisee, but the one-note condescension with which the character is treated scarcely represents an improvement (she might as well be wearing a “Redeem Me” sign over her white fur coat and hot-pink skirt).

Eventually Chris decides it’s time to bust out the old Saint mask, not only to resume his wrestling career and supplement his income, but also to clean up the streets — a bizarre “Death Wish”-style turn that’s accompanied by an ego trip of near-Belshazarrian proportions. Chris will inevitably be shown the error of his ways, though in a manner no less pat and preachy than one of his comically inept sermons. After clearly establishing that helping the oppressed is good but beating up thugs is bad, Sonoda’s movie nonetheless finds itself deep in morally confused territory; the final-bout climax plays out like an inspirational greeting card sponsored by the pro-wrestling industry, and the staging, for all its low-budget clumsiness, is grisly enough to provoke a certain admiration. “Where does the Bible say, ‘Thou shalt not wrestle’?” Michelle pipes up. You can’t really fault her theology, as will be clear to anyone who’s read the 32nd chapter of Genesis — an altogether less time-consuming and vastly more profitable endeavor, by the way, than enduring “The Masked Saint.”

Film Review: ‘The Masked Saint’

Reviewed at AMC Burbank Town Center 8, Burbank, Calif., Jan. 9, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 111 MIN.

Production: (Canada) A Freestyle Releasing (in U.S.) release of a Ridgerock Entertainment Group and P23 Entertainment production. Produced by Cliff McDowell. Executive producers, Gary Granstaff, Joe Sisto. Co-producer, David Anselmo.

Crew: Directed by Warren P. Sonoda. Screenplay, Scott Crowell, Brett Granstaff, based on the novel by Chris Whaley. Camera (Technicolor), James Griffith; editor, Aden Bahadori; music, Rodger St-Denis; production designer, Peter Mihaichuk; art director, Jenny Plaunt; set decorator, David LeBrun; costume designer, Anya Taraboulsy; sound, Cory Siddall; re-recording mixers, Steve Foster, Scott Shepherd; special effects coordinator, Max MacDonald; stunt coordinator, Eric Bryson; line producer, Justin Kelly; assistant director, Miguel Gallego.

With: Brett Granstaff, Lara Jean Chorostecki, Diahann Carroll, Patrick McKenna, Roddy Piper, Mykel Shannon Jenkins, T.J. McGibbon, James Preston Rogers, Jen Pogue, Dwain Murphy, Danielle Benton, Joan Gregson.

More Film

  • Cannes Film Review: 'Alice and the

    Cannes Film Review: 'Alice and the Mayor'

    Sophomore director Nicolas Pariser follows his politically engaged debut, “The Great Game,” with an even deeper plunge into the disconnect between political theory and the workings of government in the unmistakably French “Alice and the Mayor.” Deeply influenced by Eric Rohmer in the way it aspires to use philosophical dialogue to reveal something about the [...]

  • 'Diego Maradona' Review: The Football Legend

    Cannes Film Review: 'Diego Maradona'

    You expect the director of a biographical documentary to have a passion for whoever he’s making a movie about. But the British filmmaker Asif Kapadia spins right past passion and into obsession. He doesn’t just chronicle a personality — he does an immersive meditation on it. Kapadia plunges into the raw stuff of journalism: news [...]

  • Atlantics

    Emerging Talent From Gallic Cinema

    Variety is teaming with Unifrance, an agency that promotes French cinema around the world, to focus attention on four emerging talents in the French movie industry as part of Unifrance’s “New Faces of French Cinema” program. Here Variety profiles the rising filmmakers: Justine Triet, Eléa Gobbé-Mévellec, Hafsia Herzi and Mati Diop. Mati Diop Born to [...]

  • John Hannah Reunites With ‘The Mummy’

    John Hannah Reunites With ‘The Mummy’ Actors for Horror Pic ‘Lair’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    John Hannah, Corey Johnson and Oded Fehr will star in “Lair,” billed as a socially conscious horror movie about an LGBT family embroiled in one man’s attempt to prove the existence of the supernatural. The trio all appeared in the successful franchise “The Mummy,” and their new picture goes into production later this year. Katarina [...]

  • Loving Vincent Animation Oscars

    Adult Audience Animation: Cannes Panel Talks Big-Screen Strategy

    CANNES–A panel of leading animation industry executives gathered during the Cannes Film Market on Sunday to shed light on their strategies for the theatrical release of adult-oriented animated features. It was a timely conversation at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Five of the 28 animated projects in the Marché du Film are adult audience-focused, including [...]

  • Lea Drucker poses with the Best

    French Filmmaker Axelle Ropert Readies 'Petite Solange' With MK2 Films (EXCLUSIVE)

    French writer/director Axelle Ropert is set to direct “Petite Solange,” a film that will star Léa Drucker and Philippe Katerine, who won the best acting nods at this year’s Cesar Awards for their performances in “Custody” and “Sink or Swim,” respectively. MK2 films will handle international sales. Haut et Court has acquired rights for French [...]

  • Dutch FilmWorks Moves into International Sales

    Dutch Film Works Moves into International Sales (EXCLUSIVE)

    A major new international sales outfit is coming to market. Dutch Film Works (DFW), one of the largest movie distributors in the Benelux region, is moving into film and TV sales. DFW general manager Angela Pruijssers will spearhead the sales effort alongside Charlotte Henskens, who will join from Amsterdam-based Fortissimo Films, where she is director [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content