The Masked Saint has a premise you’d expect in a Saturday Night Live sketch: a former wrestler takes to preaching, but turns to the past when he realizes how the sport can help himself and his community. It’s a near impossible sell despite being inspired by true events, but it’s a set-up that hooks curious audiences toward a satisfying film.
What hooked me was the choice of director, Warren P. Sonoda – a busy Canadian filmmaker who usually works with profane situational comedy. I’m a big supporter of his dysfunctional holiday comedy Coopers’ Camera as well as his assertively lewd Swearnet, a film that currently holds the Guinness World Record for most swearing in a motion picture. If you told me that Sonoda’s next project after Swearnet was going to be a faith-based flick for the whole family, I would’ve looked for hidden cameras. But, colour me surprised, Sonoda has done it. He’s made an enjoyable clean-cut movie.
The Masked Saint doesn’t sell out the source material for disingenuous emotions, nor does the filmmaker pander towards devout movie goers. Sonoda has allowed some sub-genre tropes to leak in (white light streaming through any available windows, Christian soft rock, sassy grannies) and he doesn’t completely avoid all of the schmaltz found in these Evangelical films, but he controls this film with the right frame of mind.
If you’re a regular Wylie Writes visitor, you’ll know that I’m oddly fascinated by faith-based films. I’m not a religious man, but I enjoy when movies show me different pastures. What turns me off, however, is when filmmakers can’t properly sort their priorities. Heartfelt characters and a strong story are usually disposable fodder to some directors when comparing those elements to affirming morality and beliefs. Sonoda and screenwriters Scott Crowell and Brett Granstaff use devout beliefs to detail their film, but The Masked Saint is much more interested in delivering a sustainable, entertaining story about how one struggles with their past and questions the relevancy of their decisions.
Granstaff (who also plays the lead pastor, Chris) is Kirk Cameron with muscles. He’ll be a little too milquetoast for some, but his good will grows on you. The wrestling backdrop allows actors playing mean characters (Rob deLeeuw, Patrick McKenna, and the late Roddy Piper) to fittingly emphasize their arrogant demeanours as if they were showboating in the ring. It would be a shame for audiences to misinterpret these appropriate performances as “bad acting”. Hopefully, those grumps will be distracted by the engrossing, conniving hutzpah Piper brings to his extended cameo.
When The Masked Saint starts to bite off more than it can chew, the film is still likeable as a guilty pleasure. Eventually, Chris takes his wrestler alter-ego to the streets of his strained community – snappy one-liners and thug fights ensue in a way that combines a lighter version of vigilante cinema with Sunday school. What’s also weird yet watchable are those confrontations between Chris and a local detective (Mykel Shannon Jenkins), which provoke speculations that this film might be using Breaking Bad as inspiration to build towards a tense climax.
The Masked Saint always finds a way to give audiences rewarding incentives; either in the form of an entertaining wrestling match, interesting banter between Chris and a bully, charming and endearing performances, or through collaborative wisdom. Cast any reservations aside – I think you’re really going to like The Masked Saint.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie