Dir/scr: Todd Rohal. US. 2010. 81mins
The Catechism Cataclysm takes a campy Catholic priest and sends him out camping on a canoe trip with his sister’s old boyfriend. Too silly to be sacrilegious, this crazy comedy is blasphemy-lite.
Watching the lazy surreal odyssey unfold, you might be tempted to see The Catechism Cataclysm as a metaphor about telling a story, or about the futility of telling a story.
Jabs at the Catholic Church don’t get much traction at the US box office. This one, directed and written by Todd Rohal (The Guatemalan Handshake, 2007), will ride its campiness through the festival circuit and could find a berth as a midnight movie in cinemas throughout the English-speaking world. More likely, it could disappear.
The story begins at a church meeting with blathering Father Billy (Steve Little) and uncomprehending parishioners, which suggests that this free spirit talkaholic might need a break from the active priesthood.
Billy’s idea (advised by his superiors) is to take a vacation, and he contacts Robbie (Robert Longstreet), his sister’s high-school beau, whom he convinces to come along. Father Billy is still in awe of a song played by Robbie’s old Heavy Metal band – Black Toilet, about a fixture in Satan’s bathroom. That kind of humor sets the tone, as does the tag-line on the film’s poster, “God Will Fuck You Up.”
The ship of fools takes them down-river on a journey into absurdity where religion and anything else that Billy touches is ridiculed.
To call Rohal’s structure for this no-budget comedy loose is like calling George W. Bush inarticulate. Steve Little is a member of The Groundlings, the LA comedy group that spawned Pee-wee Herman, and Rohal’s film has the willful oddity of an improvised Herman-esque production. (Supported by David Gordon Green’s company, Rough House, with references to Mark Twain, it also styles itself as surreal picaresque Americana.)
At one point in the journey, the two men meet two Japanese women (tourists, we assume, since they barely speak English) named Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, and their enormous Black companion (played by the actor Rico) for an absurd encounter that involves fitting the two canoe-men with special head-gear. John Waters might be another muse for Little’s penchant to take Father Billy into the realm of indie kitsch.
No stress was spent on production values here. Camera, lighting and design are good enough for a silly romp, and deliberately no better.
Watching the lazy surreal odyssey unfold, you might be tempted to see The Catechism Cataclysm as a metaphor about telling a story, or about the futility of telling a story. To be fair, Steve Little can talk up a storm. And like a man with a gun who won’t stop shooting, he hits the mark some of the time.
Father Billy is said to have been conceived specifically by Todd Rohal for Little. Judging by Little’s volubility, there could be plenty of material for sequels. Beware.
Production companies: Littleman, Littleman, Littleman & Biggs, Rough House
International sales: Cinetic Media, www.cineticmedia.com
Producers: Megan Griffiths, Lacey Leavitt, David Gordon Green, Jody Hill, Danny McBride, Matt Reilly
Executive producer: Robert Longstreet
Cinematography: Benjamin Kasulke
Music: Joseph Stephens
Editor: Alan Canant
Production designer: Cassie Miggins
Main cast: Steve Little, Robert Longstreet, Walter Dalton, Miki Ann Maddox, Koko Lanham, Rico, Joe Ivy, Enrique Olguin, Barbara Pomer