The Masked Saint is a mediocre effort

by Steve Pulaski

Ever since the huge success of God’s Not Dead, the staunchly evangelical film that coincidentally stole a great deal of buzz away from Noah, another film with a faith-based background, studios like Pure Flix Entertainment and Freestyle Releasing have been finding more and more Christian titles to pick up for a theatrical release. Even Hollywood has recognized that a large part of the Christian market as ostensibly been disenfranchised with a lack of titles that appeal or pertain the faith of their audience, and with that, has even looked to make movies like Heaven is for Real and Son of God.

While 2015 had quite a few faith-based releases, most of them were mediocre or downright poor, leaving 2016 has a year where just about any release could improve upon the quality of the most recent batch of Christian films we’ve already had on our hands. The Masked Saint wastes no time coming on the first formal movie weekend of the year, and despite nothing being as big of a miscalculation as War Room, it doesn’t so much wipe our hands clean of what we’ve already touched with this genre, and instead, takes a wet-napkin and smears the mess around to look just a bit cleaner than before.

The Masked Saint
Directed by
Warren P. Sonoda
Brett Granstaff, Lara Jean Chorostecki, T.J. McGibbon
Release Date
8 January 2016
Steve’s Grade: D

To put it boldly, The Masked Saint is another mediocre link in the chain, poorly conceived and unable to function as a story without making bombastic, theatrical displays of situational drama and conflict. It makes the same mistake most of its brother and sister films make because it doesn’t know how to function as a film without sermonizing or blowing each event that tests its characters and their faith out of proportion. Being that this film focuses largely on the world of wrestling and the dualities of character, you can also expect the entire project to be just as phony and overblown as anything you’ll see on Monday Night Raw.

The film revolves around the true story of Chris Samuels (Brett Granstaff), a former professional wrestler who retires from the ring to settle down and become the pastor of a failing church in a small town. While he is supported unconditionally by his wife Michelle (Lara Jean Chorostecki) and daughter, he is met with opposition from the church’s main financial backer Judd (Patrick McKenna), who believes the church is entirely his. In addition, Chris sees the brokenness of his community, as crime, prostitution, and rampant godlessness prevails every day, right down to his next-door neighbors, the husband a boorish alcoholic and the wife a victim of his violent rampages.

While the core of the story is about Chris getting people back into the church and welcoming people with open arms – even a prostitute who is looking for redemption – it’s also about Chris finding a way to combat the violence by putting on part of his wrestler costume in order to take the city’s problems into his own hands. This involves rescuing the aforementioned prostitute, in addition to stopping a robbery in a local diner. Then, at the end of it all, there’s Nicky (Roddy Piper in his final role), Chris’s old wrestling manager and promoter hellbent on getting him to come back into the ring.

At one moment, The Masked Saint is content on being a drama about a man’s determination to get a ramshackle eyesore of a church back to being a well-respected community staple of salvation and redemption. The next, it’s trying to excite by showing Chris beat up bad guys like Spider-Man and spout unbelievably contrived and poorly delivered responses like “I’m a man” when somebody tells him, “you’re a saint.” The Masked Saint cannot operate on the basis of a simple drama and has to occupy its more climactic sequences with incredulous action or cloying sermonizing that sounds like a pedestrian’s summation of the good parts of the Bible.

As far as emotional manipulation goes, screenwriter Scott Crowell keeps things to a respectable minimum, as he’s clearly more concerned with respecting the real-life Samuels and his family by giving them a story rooted in plot and character rather than emotions. However, relationships and events that initially appear as if they’ll have a significant pull on the film wind up either getting permanently placed on the backburner or hamfisted in the screenplay in a last-ditch effort to evoke some kind of tension or conflict. For one, the emotionally and physically abusive husband only punctuates the script, when he initially seems like he’ll be an integral part of Chris’s plan to save the people of his community. After one tense confrontation between him and Chris, an event that mirrors anything but what would happen in reality, the husband is all of a sudden transformed in looks and attitude the next time he crosses paths with the pastor he formerly loathed.

The other element is Chris’s stress level with going back to wrestling whilst trying to run the church. In one scene, he is lectured by Ms. Edna (Diahann Carroll – because every Christian film needs that stereotypical, warm black lady who allows anyone and everyone in her home to coddle), a supportive resident of the community, for being too strict and self-indulgent, behavior he hasn’t really exhibited up until the following scene where he snaps at his wife and daughter out of nowhere. These kinds of disjointed elements only make the other issues of sensationalism embedded in The Masked Saint‘s screenplay rise to the surface much quicker and in a more evident fashion.

Last year’s faith-based football drama Woodlawn showed us that an approach to a film that highlights faith and devout religious beliefs can, in turn, derail or further cripple an otherwise true story that already feels too good to be true. The Masked Saint tries to do something out of left-field with a different sport and an unlikely hero, but quickly falls prey to the worst conventions of the genre and the material. It’s a noble effort but a result that’s just about entirely unmemorable.