It seems like only yesterday that I was rolling my eyes at a faith-based “comedy” that surrounded its no-name/unfunny stars with famous actors from the big and small screen.
OK, it WAS only yesterday. And here we go again, another movie with “faith” in the title, the odd sprightly turn by big names brought in for small supporting roles, a clever line here and there and the germ of an idea.
And if there’s barely a laugh in “Faith Ba$ed,” it can’t come as much consolation that there aren’t many in most Christian films, including“Faith, Hope & Love.”
At least“Assassin 33 A.D.” was funny — if unintentionally so.
“Faith Ba$ed” is a send-up of faith-based films, scripted by a preacher’s son, directed by a Christian. Co-writer and star Luke Barnett has concocted a stoner comedy where the stoners cynically figure the way to break into the movie biz is by making a church-financed movie with faith and belief as its subject and subtext.
The stoners are Luke (Barnett) and Tanner (Tanner Thomason), two dead-enders in Reseda, California who come to the conclusion “It’s time we DID something with our lives!”
Luke just lost his job cleaning pools (Danny Woodburn, “Mickey” in “Seinfeld,” plays his boss). His side hustle is a “miracle tea” pyramid scheme promoted by his idol, ex-con/millionaire Nicky Steele (Jason Alexander of “Seinfeld”).
Tanner’s a bartender and a womanizer who uses “Schindler’s List” to get his lady-loves in the mood.
The guys have been pals since childhood, long-obsessed with the TV and film work of “Rambo” impersonator Butch Savage (David Koechner of “Anchorman”). This wild scheme sounds like merely their latest wild scheme.
But as Luke’s stepdad is a pastor (the wonderful Lance Reddick) who is about to lose his church, he figures he can start a new career and make enough cash to save the church and impress his Dad. Besides, his father’s noticed how some churches (such as Sherwood Baptist, in Georgia) have gotten into the film business for proselytizing and profit. He inadvertently gave them the idea.
“Fireproof,” “God’s Not Dead,” “War Room,” “Courageous” — all are cited as inspiringly profitable ventures in the faith-based film field. And there are jokes about who these films line up as “stars” — Kirk Cameron and Kevin Sorbo. Hilarious.
Here’s the only scene in the film with real satiric sting. The guys take a meeting with the equally-cynical head of acquisitions (Margaret Cho) of “ChristFlix,” a play on Pureflix, a faith-based distributor. And the foul-mouthed studio hack has the magic formula for their movie.
Number one, “You need an A, B or C-list celebrity who is also a Christian. Or at the very least, a Republican.” Number two, put “key words in the title — faith, prayer, heaven, Huckabee…” Number three, add “peril” and number four, “You’ve got to talk about God — JC. Bonus points if God is IN it!”
The lads, newly resolute, set out to learn the film business, come up with a concept (“A Prayer in Space,” because “You never heard a prayer in ‘Alien!'” ) and learn about fund-raising, casting, green screens, post production, the works.
All of which has been covered in other films, funnier films without the whole “faith-based” hook. The DIY casting and filmmaking scenes haven’t got one decent sight gag.
The obstacles, potential romances and rifts between the two best friends that get in their way are desultory and haphazardly injected into the proceedings. And the leads? If only this description rang the least bit true.
“If this was ‘Dumb & Dumber,’ Tanner would be ‘Dumb’ and Luke would DEFINITELY be ‘Dumber!'”
It’s not. A bigger problem with this comedy of bong-hits and profanity is one of tone. The actual movie in between those anti-faith-based film moments — one of the reasons the picture generated controversy before they ever rolled camera — is mild-mannered and bland — in the extreme.
That’s right. This “cynical” comedy isn’t the least bit cynical, and certainly not cynical enough. Remember “Saved” with Mandy Moore? That’s your touchstone.
If you’re a preacher’s kid making a movie about getting Christian “suckers” to finance your new movie venture, there is no pulling punches. Go big, ridiculing the whole “There’s a sucker born every minute” mockery of Christianity, play up who you’re hustling and why you think you can hustle them, or don’t bother.
Reddick and Alexander acquit themselves, as can be expected. Koechner’s performance is a series of over-the-top inserts that don’t deliver. And nobody else so much as registers.
It’s so dull and flat that maybe the producers’ best bet is starting a campaign for Fox viewers to buy it and shelve it to prevent “this blasphemy” from spreading. But I just ruined that scheme, didn’t I?
As a “faith-based” film spoof, this one is basically a 90 minute swing-and-a-miss.
MPAA Rating: unrated, profanity, pot and alcohol abuse
Cast: Luke Barnett, Tanner Thomason, Margaret Cho, Danielle Nicolet, Jason Alexander, Carly Craig, Danny Woodburn, David Koechner and Lance Reddick.
Credits: Directed by Vincent Masciale, script by Luke Barnett. A Lone Suspect release.
Running time: 1:32