‘The Catechism Cataclysm’ is a tough movie to endure

Robert Longstreet and Steve Little in 'The Catechism Cataclysm,' a new movie from director Todd Rohal — Photo courtesy of IFC Films

Golden rule: There’s no way to make a cult film; one has to earn that status. Many movies have tried over the years — Napoleon Dynamite being the most egregious example — but few have succeeded. Now comes The Catechism Cataclysm from writer-director Todd Rohal. The 81-minute film feels like a comedy sketch that runs 65 minutes too long. It’s a shame, because the on-screen talent obviously has some bona fide comedy chops. But this is not the vehicle for them.

Father Billy (Steve Little from HBO’s Eastbound & Down) is a curious priest. He smiles a lot and reminiscences fondly about his pre-collar life. But when holding conversations and trying to pass along parables to his parishioners, he fails miserably. Little plays him like a lovable doofus, someone who doesn’t understand that most people are laughing in his face.

It should be mentioned that in the story there is no reason why Billy needs to be a Roman Catholic priest. It’s never explained why he entered the priesthood, and his relationship to a higher being feels like simple fodder for stupid religious jokes.

Out of the blue (and I do mean out of the blue), Billy decides to look up his sister’s old boyfriend, a guy named Robbie (Robert Longstreet). When they were in high school together, Billy idolized Robbie, loving his metal band and overall rock ‘n roll personality. Robbie, on the other hand, has no recollection of Billy and finds the priest a little creepy.

Within a few minutes after meeting at a diner, Billy convinces Robbie to overcome his hesitation and join him on a day-long canoe trip. The adventure will give them ample time to catch up and also provide Billy a renewal of his Catholic faith.

Are you still with me?

They eventually set off on their trip and that’s when the conventional story ends. After getting lost on the river, they meet a bald silent guy and two twin sisters, and nothing remains the same again.

I’d like to call The Catechism Cataclysm a harmful diversion, but the characters are so grating and ridiculous that the movie proves difficult to endure. Father Billy is so strange and “out there” that he doesn’t fit into the film. Little is better suited for scripts that are clever, rather than dumb. Longstreet does the best he can as the Dean Martin to Billy’s Jerry Lewis, but his talents are wasted. Worst of all, many of the conversations in the movie are built around the same questions that the audience ponders: Why are we doing this? What’s the purpose? Who are these people?

In the final minutes, the comedy tries to turn over into a horror spoof, but rather than reaching a conclusion, the film just meanders to an end. There’s no liking these characters. There’s no liking this plot. And the one-liners are average at best. The only form of entertainment comes in Robbie’s inventive stories that he tells in the canoe and around the campfire. Each time I wished the film would focus on those characters in the dream. But, alas, we returned to Father Billy and his annoying, annoying ways.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • The Catechism Cataclysm

  • 2011

  • Written and directed by Todd Rohal

  • Starring Steve Little and Robert Longstreet

  • Running time: 81 minutes

  • Not Rated

  • Rating: ★☆☆☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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