A professional wrestler turned preacher who moonlights as a vigilante hero – this sounds like a great plot for a movie. While this is, in fact, the plot of the new film from Ridgerock Faith and P23 Entertainment called “The Masked Saint”, the amazing part of this story is that it is based on true events.
“The Masked Saint” is based on the life story of Chris Waley who is releasing a book by the same title in January of 2016 recounting the true story of his years as a nubile pastor and retired professional wrestler. Inspired by Waley’s story, writer Scott Crowell and co-writer/star Brett Granstaff set out with director Warren P. Sonada to bring this heroic tale to the big screen.
The films opens on Chris Samuels’ (Brett Granstaff, “Vice”, “Black Mass”) final night with the WFW wrestling corporation. Samuels had decided to retire from professional wrestling to pursue a calling from God to be a pastor, much to the chagrin of the owner and manager of the WFW, Nicky Stone (“Rowdy” Roddy Piper). Chris expects that he is going to retire as the WFW Champion but is informed by Nicky that he will fight newcomer, “The Reaper”, and lose the match. The Reaper is an unexperienced wrestler and a brute in the ring. After throwing him around the ring for few minutes with little opportunity for Chris to fight back, The Reaper intentionally breaks Chris’ leg, ending the match and taking the WFW championship from Chris.
Disgraced and injured, Chris packs up his with his wife, Michelle (Lara Jean Chorostecki), and their daughter and moves them to a small town in Michigan and to Westside Baptist Church. Westside has seen its better days; there is little money to pay the bills and make repairs on the building, the choir and music are terrible, and the congregation is nearly dissolved. Moreover, the only person keeping the church alive financially, Judd (Patrick McKenna), is not liked by the community or the church goers and proves to be a challenge for Chris to tolerate. With bills piling up and the church seemingly slipping through his fingers, Chris decides to secretly return to professional wrestling in order to earn money and keep the church alive. As he succeeds in the ring, Chris begins to succeed in the pulpit. But in a moment of frustration and confusion, Chris dons his wrestling garb to stop a pimp from beating up on a young lady. The rush from defending a helpless girl fills Chris with excitement and a sense of purpose. But living a “triple life” begins to take its toll on Chris when his life as a successful wrestler and crime-fighter begins to effect his ministry. With the law and criminals becoming suspicious of the town’s new preacher, Chris must decide whether or not he will continue on this dangerous and deceitful road, or will he come clean to his church family?
A few years ago it was very hard to support films like this one. It seemed that the production value for “Christian” movies was never up to par with what was coming out of Hollywood. The good news is that we’re getting there and “The Masked Saint” is proof. As a movie buff with a degree in film who is also a full-time pastor and wrestling fan, “The Masked Saint” is right up my alley. The story gripped me from viewing the trailer and the appearances by the late, great wrestling legend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper were a joy to watch. Director Warren P. Sonada and Director of Photography James Griffith did a great job in making a beautiful, well shot film. Writers Scott Crowell and Brett Granstaff did a great job in providing a script that was believable and did not feel contrived like many films with these types of stories often do.
There were two traits of this film that particularly made me enjoy it. The first was the performances from the actor. Brett Granstaff is practically in every shot of this film and he carries it well. The scene where Chris preaches his first sermon was awkward and enjoyable and a relatable situation for any pastor or public speaker. Brett’s performance as both a pastor and fighter were believable and impressive, representing the struggle between what one should or should not do. Lara Jean Chorostecki was enjoyable as Chris’ tenaciously upbeat and optimistic wife, Michelle. The roles of stereotypical church members were played very well from the cooky organist to the grumpy widow, the timid treasurer, and the blowhard financier. But two actors in this film stole the show whenever they were on screen, Mykel Shannon Jenkins as Detective Harper and T.J. McGibbon as Carrie Samuels, Chris and Michelle’s daughter. Mykel and T.J. were a joy to watch and brought loads of like-ability to this movie. Anytime they were on screen had me wishing that they had more to do in the story, ergo more screen time.
The second trait that I admired was the true-to-life pastoral situations. As a wrestling fan I can say that a lot of the in-ring action was sub-par and generic, but altogether entertaining and served the story. The real life interactions between Chris and members of his community were heart-wrenchingly accurate. On the day that Chris and his family move into town, he and his wife go door to door to invite people to church. Time and after they are greeted with people rolling their eyes, huffing and puffing, shutting the door in their faces, or even being downright rude. That same day Chris meets Judd, the overbearing, overly confident financial backer of the church who Chris immediately deems is in need of an attitude check. In one scene Chris is invited to play on the church basketball team with Judd which leads to an altercation after Judd has been particularly childish. As the court clears one player says to Chris, “And you guys are supposed to be a ‘church group’?” Chris’ frustration as a pastor seeing people who claim Christianity but don’t act like Christians and seeing injustice and abuse in the world is true to the experience of any pastor. Seeing evil and corruption often results in anger and every pastor has to fight the urge to lash out and do something rash. All pastors have learned harsh lessons in their early careers about keeping their mouths shut and doing the right thing as opposed to the easy thing. As Chris learned in the film, just because you’re good with your fists doesn’t mean they need to do the talking.
Finally, an awesome scene in the film defines the entire message of “The Masked Saint” and the message pastor Chris Waley. As Chris Samuels is preaching on a Sunday morning the young lady, an assumed prostitute, whom Chris had rescued from her pimp a few night prior enters into the church and sits in the back. Immediately one of the women in the back of the church notices her, moves to a different pew, and points out the girl to another congregant. Soon the whole congregation is eye-balling her and judging her. Embarrassed and dejected the girl stands up to leave but Chris asks her to stay. Chris leaves the pulpit and meets her in the church isle and asks, “What is your name?” “Valerie,” she answers. Chris draws an imaginary line on the carpet and demands that anyone who has never sinned please come and cross that line. When no one in the church moves Chris asks, “Now who will come and greet Valerie?” This is a message that everyone needs to hear and every church needs to adopt. In James 2:1-13, Paul warns his readers not to show favoritism to those that society deems worthy. All who come seeking forgiveness should be received. All who come seeking God shall find Him (Matt. 7:7). James 2:12-13 reads, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgement.” Chris’ message in this film and in reality is one of acceptance of others and hope for everyone through Jesus Christ. That message alone is worth the watch for this film.
“The Masked Saint” is rated PG-13 and will hit theaters in the United States on January 8, 2016.