Todd Rohal’s gleefully dopey comedy The Catechism Cataclysm opens with bumbling priest Steve Little telling his congregation a funny story that has no real point and no scriptural application. The rest of the movie follows suit. The plot kicks in when Little (best known for playing Kenny Powers’ dim-witted yes-man on Eastbound & Down) emails old acquaintance Robert Longstreet, and invites him to spend an afternoon canoeing. Little remembers Longstreet from high school as a great short-story writer and musician, but since graduation, Longstreet has been working as a spotlight-operator on lame national tours, completely unaware that he’s been such an inspiration to a guy he barely knew. As they float down the river, Little reveals how endearingly ignorant he is about how the world works, while Longstreet enjoys having someone to talk to—even though Little complains that none of Longstreet’s stories have proper endings. All is well until the boys can’t find their exit point. They end up spending the night with two giggly Japanese girls who call themselves “Tom Sawyer” and “Huck Finn,” and call the hulking, silent black man they’re with “Jim.” By morning, extreme freakiness has ensued.
Unlike Rohal’s quirk-in-extremis debut film, The Guatemalan Handshake, The Catechism Cataclysm is more naturalistic in its first hour, in the vein of Eastbound & Down, whose writer-producer-directors, Jody Hill and David Gordon Green, also produced Cataclysm. The last 20 minutes get far, far crazier, yet even after the movie takes its turn for the surreal, it remains rooted in the reactions of slack-faced good guy Little and the gruff-but-loveable Longstreet. They’re a funny pair, and more alike than they immediately realize: They’re both living lives very different from what they expected, and they’ve both constructed narratives to justify where they’ve ended up. Not everyone will find their company enjoyable, but those who do should appreciate Rohal’s riffs on classic fiction, as well as his stories-within-stories-with-no-clear-escape premise. It would be a stretch to ascribe a point to a movie about pointlessness, but if The Catechism Cataclysm does have something to say, it’s that it’s possible to enjoy a trip even when it isn’t really going anywhere.