Because of advances in social media, most of us have experienced a friend request from someone we knew from our distant past, who we never really even talked to. Maybe we barely remember that person at all -- we certainly never counted them as a friend -- and we wonder just what in the world compelled them to seek us out (sometimes with cynical, dismissive suspicion). It's usually not just in the service of collecting as many digital friends as possible, and if we can look beyond the initial surprise of it, the real answer seems pretty plain.
Imagine all the people you've come across in your life that really impressed you or made an impact on you, despite your lack of a specific relationship with those people. Maybe one of your dad's buddies was so quick-witted that you never forgot him, even decades after the last time you laid eyes on him. What if a girl you went to elementary school with is still one of the most creative souls you've ever met? If those people exist for you, then you have to acknowledge that you may have made that kind of impact on other people. Those seemingly out-of-the-blue friend requests should be treated as compliments; they speak more about you than you might realize. 'The Catechism Cataclysm' recognizes this.
In Todd Rohal's lunatic comedy, Father William (aka Billy, played by 'Eastbound and Down's' Steve Little) has never forgotten his older sister's long-ago boyfriend, Robbie (Robert Longstreet), once a teenage party animal rock-and-roller, now a jaded forty-something roadie for the Ice Capades. Ignoring his catechism studies to obsess over a reunion that seems cursed from the start, Father Billy lures the reluctant Robbie out for a remote canoe trip. In Billy's head, Robbie is a fantasy ideal -- eternally bucking the system and living out an impossible rock and roll dream. In Robbie's head, Billy is a complete nobody. He barely even remembers Billy's sister.
'The Catechism Cataclysm' is basically a road comedy in the water, with two mis-matched dudes on a male bonding trip that neither one of them should be on. These kinds of things usually rise and fall on the chemistry of the two leads and Little and Longstreet make a hilarious pair. Father Billy's an insufferable half-wit, portrayed with relentless, irritating enthusiasm and naivety by Little, who does moronic so effortlessly (here, and on 'Eastbound'), you begin to wonder how much of it is an act. That's a special kind of talent, right there. Longstreet is weathered but still human, and he makes a great, angry straight man to Little. 'Cataclysm' follows the cliches of any road movie you've ever seen, with the pair getting lost (of course), sharing drunken confessions (seen it), and blowing-up violently due to personality clashes, only to work it out right away and apologize ('Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,' much?).
And then things get very, very weird. A side-splitting tangent involving a pair of girly Japanese DJs named after Mark Twain characters and their brooding, mysterious partner, also traveling downriver, dovetails into an ending that's as purposefully offbeat and unsatisfying as both the parables that Father Billy shares with his congregation and the absurd stories Robbie makes up to kill time in the canoe. It's calculated chaos on the part of writer-director Rohal -- a well-placed stumbling block for audiences who need their comedies to end tidy with everyone learning a heartfelt lesson and going home happy.
'The Catechism Cataclysm' feels a tiny bit like 'A Serious Man's' spiritual cousin, portraying our daily lives as a series of improbably awful challenges from a distant God. There's no real measure of control, no matter how "good" we are. Billy and Robbie carry the weight of that burden in different ways, and Rohal handles those characters' feelings as authentic, even when the comedy gets really out there. There's more than just idiocy happening here; these are real people.
You could very well be somebody's Robbie -- an inspiration and an idol to someone you barely know, in a way you don't even recognize. Much worse, but equally as probable, you could be somebody's Father Billy -- a grinning dim-bulb that lives in the past and can't fully articulate the depth of your own dissatisfaction with life. Most of us are both, and 'The Catechism Cataclysm' forces some introspection on the subject, even through it's own hilarious, off-kilter brand of utter stupidity. It's a very dumb comedy made by very smart folks.