Film festivals like Toronto and Sundance feature special sections devoted to midnight movies, films that cater to the ultra-violent, the rudely perverse, and the gleefully weird. These movies aren't trying to win awards -- they're just down-and-dirty genre movies -- and so you go into them with a more forgiving, let's-have-fun attitude. "The Catechism Cataclysm," which premiered in Sundance's Park City at Midnight section, is a perfect example of this sort of movie, but unfortunately it's got all the worst qualities of their kind. You can only forgive so much.
The film stars Steve Little ("Eastbound & Down") as Father Billy, a dopey priest who doesn't seem to be particularly adept at his chosen calling. (He gets annoyed when his parishioners don't enjoy his stories.) Forced to take a sabbatical, he manages to reconnect with Robbie (Robert Longstreet, great as Michael Shannon's work buddy in "Take Shelter"), a high school classmate who was in a metal band and used to date Billy's sister. Billy idolizes Robbie, who seems to tolerate the adulation, although he's not in a band anymore. (Now he does lighting for shows like the Ice Capades.) They decide to go on a canoe trip where, in the tradition of midnight movies, lots of weird, random stuff happens.
Early on, it seems that "The Catechism Cataclysm" will be a snotty take-down of organized religion, but pretty soon it becomes clear that writer-director Todd Rohal isn't really interested in satirizing anything in particular. Instead, this is a road movie that meanders along with its loser characters without much purpose or focus. "The Catechism Cataclysm" ends up feeling like a low-impact "Old Joy" with the twist that rather than it being about old friends trying to reconnect on a nature getaway, it's about one guy who worships another guy, who doesn't even like the first guy. The problem is that Billy's aggressively dorky behavior never ends up being that funny. Like Robbie, you'll spend most of your time wondering when you can get the hell away from him.
Though it's mostly a comedy, "The Catechism Cataclysm" eventually switches gears when the gents decide to make camp for the night. But even when the film ventures into darker, odder terrain Rohal doesn't have much enthusiasm or ingenuity for his surreal excursion. Where many midnight movies lean heavily on blood and gore to shock their audience into a reaction, "The Catechism Cataclysm" is mostly kind of dull throughout. A Bible falls into a toilet filled with poop. A head explodes. That's really about it. Nothing all that shocking, nothing that scandalous. Which means, really, that there's nothing special about this movie.