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Review: Two buddies’ get-rich scheme is ‘Faith Based’

Luke Barnett and Tanner Thomason in the comedy "Faith Based."
Friends Luke (Luke Barnett), left, and Tanner (Tanner Thomason) know little about Christianity and less about moviemaking, so of course they decide their ticket to riches is to make a religious film in the comedy “Faith Based.”
(Gravitas Ventures)

Is “Faith Based” the answer to the prayers of comedy-starved movie buffs? Not entirely, but it’s no plague of locusts, either. Though its premise and stylized version of its title (“Faith Ba$ed”) sound as if it’s going to hammer religion and especially religion-for-profit, it’s pretty gentle and is as much about Hollywood.

Friends Luke (Luke Barnett) and Tanner (Tanner Thomason) are stalled. Tanner, catnip to women who somehow successfully employs “Schindler’s List” as a seduction tool, has worked at the same bar forever. Roommate Luke sells weight-loss teas in a pyramid scheme and lusts after one of the bar patrons, Brandy (Carly Craig). Then Luke and Tanner come up with their best get-rich scheme yet: Make a faith-based movie! Neither is religious, though Luke is the (white) adopted son of a (Black) preacher. Neither has the faintest clue how to make a movie. But what the heck, let’s put on a show!

What follows is some occasionally sharp humor as they foolishly stumble toward their goal. Jason Alexander and David Koechner play looming figures who influence the buddies — the comedy vets look as if they’re enjoying themselves, especially in their respective wig selection. Margaret Cho appears all too briefly as a distributor with the precise formula she’ll accept for a faith-based project. For instance, it must include a name star who is “Christian, or at least a Republican.” When asked why she doesn’t just fund the film, she scoffs: “What kind of sucker would invest in an imaginary dream that might benefit them in the end?”

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But despite a few such pointed gags, the film is less about ripping believers than lampooning aspects of the filmmaking business, and following the friends’ disparate paths. It can be funnily self-aware, as when its unheralded leads (Barnett wrote it; both produced it) agree their project needs a star. “Nobody wants to watch a movie with somebody they don’t know,” says one, followed by a long pause with the camera on them both. What they end up making is a, shall we say, cross between “God Is Real” and “The Martian” called “A Prayer in Space.”

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Two friends who aren’t religious and also aren’t filmmakers decide to make a religious film for the big bucks they’re sure will come their way in “Faith Based.”

There’s also a hilarious Christian rock song about building a life-sized crucifix for one’s bedroom (“If it fell when I was sleeping / I’d be crushed for sure / Crushed for sure / Crushed for sure”). There’s even a blink-and-miss-it, but funny, cameo by Chris Mann, one of our pandemic-era troubadours (“My Corona,” others).

From Neil Diamond’s updated “Sweet Caroline” to spoofs of “Kokomo” and “Stayin’ Alive,” here are the best song parodies to keep you company in quarantine.

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Unfortunately, “Faith Based” badly loses steam when it enters the “personal setback” phase of the story. In its cinematic search for meaning, you feel it pull its punches. It uncomfortably seeks laughs at the expense of characters for their sexuality and strains for a “They’ve learned something” resolution. Notably, the film isn’t anywhere near the gaping maw to eternal damnation that more than 10,000 angry commenters thought it was when it was covered on Fox News and Breitbart (months before it could be seen by any of these folks).

And it contains one of the most quotable movie lines so far this year: “Lord, save me from these space monsters!”

'Faith Based'

Rated: Unrated

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

Playing: Available Oct. 9 on VOD and digital platforms


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