When a movie starts with flames and blackmetal, you know you’re onto something. That’s exactly how “The Catechism Cataclysm”, the latest, crazy-ass indie comedy from director Todd Rohal, starts out, and it only builds from there. The film is kind of a road trip, kind of a voyage of self-discovery, and kind of an “Apocalypse Now” style journey into a chaotic, surreal hell. It is a tribute to Rohal, who also wrote the script, that despite being absurd, irrational, and at first glance, unsound, that “Catechism” is ultimately an entertaining, surprisingly watchable movie.
Father William Smoorster (Steve Little, “Eastbound & Down”), Father Billy to his friends, is a priest, only he’s become bored and indifferent with his path. Instead of providing guidance to his flock, he tells his Bible study group funny stories that have nothing to do with God, watches amusing videos on the internet, and uses his great-grandfather’s Bible as an autograph book. When the higher ups—other priests, not God, not that high up—make Father Billy take a semi-forced vacation, he tracks down Robbie Shoemaker (Robert Longstreet). Back in the day Robbie was in a sweet, sweet metal band, dated Billy’s sister, and, unbeknownst to him, was Billy’s first hero in life. At Billy’s insistence, the two reunite for a canoe trip through the wilderness. Robbie is not who Billy thinks he is, and you can imagine things don’t go quite as planned as the journey leads them in directions they never imagined, including an encounter with two Japanese maybe-prostitutes named Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and their nearly mute male companion.
There isn’t a whole lot of plot to “The Catechism Cataclysm”, and the film is really just an excuse to let Little off of his leash for 87 minutes. Despite Rohal’s insistence that everything in the film was actually in the script, the whole thing has a loose, improvised feel. Little’s spastic, sheltered, clueless, and gullible Father Billy carries the film. He’s like an ADD riddled child who found where his parents keep their stash of soda, and he bounces through every bizarre, sacrilegious scene with a giddy energy. After a while you start to wonder if he’s mentally handicapped or just a lunatic. Initially I expected to get really pissed off at Little’s tomfoolery, you just know that eventually he’s going to cross that line between endearing into full on obnoxious, but, while he comes close, he never quite gets to the point of no return.
Rohal does a good job of reining the story in before it falls off the rails completely. He keeps things short and to the point, in a manner of speaking. “Catechism” is a rambling, directionless story that, though it builds to a twisted, nightmare of a finale full of exploding heads and a throbbing Japanese techno assault, there is little in the way of concrete conclusions. If you get a chance you should definitely watch “The Catechism Cataclysm”, it is a lot of fun, but don’t go in expecting a lot of story, character development, and the usual cinematic affectations. If you can look past it’s limitations in these areas, you’ll have a damn good time.