Buddy Comedy "Faith Based" Pokes Gentle Fun at Christian Film Industry

Tanner and Luke present to church
[L-R] Tanner Thomason as Tanner and Luke Barnett as Luke in FAITH BASED

Two bosom pals find purpose and a new outlook on life when they decide to make a faith-based movie together, even though neither knows anything about making movies nor spends time in spiritual endeavors (although Luke's status as a pastor's kid grants him some insider knowledge). But maybe with enough heart and plenty of hands, their dreams can come true in this feel-good satirical comedy packed with delightful supporting characters, situational humor, and heartwarming friendship. 

Luke and Tanner (played by Luke Barnett and Tanner Thomason, respectively) have been friends since they were young. As youths, they enjoyed the G.I. Joe-esque heroics and inspirational babble of Butch Savage (a delightfully wigged David Koechner), a former wrestler turned kids' show actor, who taught them to work hard and never settle. Luke never forgot those lessons and still possesses optimism that he is bound for greatness if he just finds the right sauce. His hero, Nicky Steele (Jason Alexander), provides all the motivation he needs, through such musings as: "Find the people who believe in the idea of you and the idea of your ideas."

As adults, Luke and Tanner live happily together as roommates, sharing a dog, getting high, and going to bingo night. Luke works at a local bar and feels relatively content with his life, but for Luke, it's not always easy feeling like a disappointment to his father, Pastor Mike (Lance Reddick), who has raised his three children to be a "family of excellence." Luke, who wants only to please his father (and perhaps get a date with bar regular Brandy), works pool sanitation but hopes to get rich by selling Nicky Steele's herbal weight loss teas on the side. After a frustrating day at work, Luke lands on his next "big idea" by fusing together two facts he overhears at a family dinner. One, his father's church needs to raise $75,000 in order to pay an upcoming rental bill, and two, a church in similar dire straits made bank due to the profits raised from a fictional faith-based movie called Love is Underground. After researching the project, Luke realizes faith-based movies don't have to be good or well-made to make money because Christians will flock to theaters to see them, so he thinks, why not? 

Nicky Steele speaks inspirational quotes
Jason Alexander as Nicky Steele in FAITH BASED

Luke needs only to convince Tanner, find the right cast and crew, raise the funds needed to start production, convince his father it's a good idea, and find an impressive actor to play God, and his dreams of making the greatest Christian movie ever made can come true. What could be easier?

Director Vincent Masciale and Barnett (the pair worked together on Fear, Inc, and other projects), who wrote the screenplay, structure the film as a mockumentary. As we watch the story play out, characters frequently interrupt the proceedings to address the audience directly, as if they are being interviewed for reality TV or a "making of" featurette. This setup could have flopped, since it inherently breaks the storytelling law of "show; don't tell" but the perfect combination of sincerity and sarcasm expressed by characters serves only to endear viewers to Luke, Tanner, and the crew. Their filmed confessions draw us close to them and keep us rooting for them throughout, despite their imperfections. And the chemistry between real-life friends Barnett and Thomason also shines through.  

Studio executives explain Christian movies
[L-R] Chris Marquette as Hans and Margaret Cho as Jane in FAITH BASED

Faith Based successfully plays as funny due to several factors. One, characters feel authentic and like people we know, yet little details keep them from feeling recycled. Tanner works at a bar and gets high, but he also seduces potential bedmates by showing them Schindler's List and does CrossFit. Luke is an optimistic dreamer but also takes "scream showers" when he's upset and gets around town on his electric scooter. TV shows like "The Office" and movies like Office Space use this character development strategy to great effect, and the same holds true here. Second, viewers will eat up the scenes including such famous faces as David Koechner ("The Office"), Jason Alexander ("Seinfeld"), Margaret Cho, Richard Riehle (Office Space), Chris Marquette (Barry), and Lance Reddick (John Wick). Each of their appearances, short as they may be, lights up the screen, without completely taking away from the main plot. Third, the movie pokes gentle fun at the faith-based movie industry without malice towards Christianity or the church community.

In order to make this movie, Tanner and Luke have to enter two settings that may ruffle feathers most. One takes place in a movie studio's executive office, where Jane (Margaret Cho) presents an easy-to-follow formula for making a faith-based movie that highlights the low expectations Christian audiences place on these films: "They don't have to be bad; they just don't have to be good." The second takes place in a church, when the pair solicits the startup funds they need to start the project from the congregation. They are greeted by a coffee server who thinks he's a barista and an enthusiastic door greeter named Hoyt, who later joins the movie crew. During the worship service, the band sings "I Hung a Cross," which pokes fun at the questionable lyrics contemporary worship songs often employ. Although some Christians may not like the way churches or Christian movies come across here, this viewer (who is a Christian and a member of a church) can't say that either scene is unrealistic. Quite the opposite -- it's almost too real to be funny. 

The movie crew in green screen suits
[L-R] Lance Reddick as Pastor Mike, Luke, and Tanner in FAITH BASED

However, overall the church community shown in the movie is represented as a purveyor of good. Luke, who has grown up in the church, desires to keep his distance from the church crowd, but Tanner takes it all in with wide-eyed wonder. In fact, he begins dating a girl from the church and joins a "small group" because he feels drawn in by the feel-good vibes and warmth. And by the end, the bar crowd and the church crowd work side-by-side to make the movie -- A Prayer in Space -- a reality.

Although Faith Based isn't a movie with a moral by any means, lessons can be gleaned nonetheless. Both main characters go through a journey of sorts. Tanner gets the chance to meet some new people and expand his worldview. He gets outside the bar and enters into a new kind of community. For Luke, although he's grown up in the church, that doesn't mean he has absorbed its good qualities. Luke has to learn how to ask for help, admit flaws, and let other people in. 

Faith Based is a charming buddy comedy about the joy of making movies, despite the obstacles. Sometimes, all it takes is heart, open wallets, and a little faith to make a dream come true. Sounds schmaltzy? Sure. But we can all use a little heartwarming right now.

Release Info: On VOD October 9th

Final Score: 4 out of 5. 

Movie poster for Faith Based