The job of Brendan Steere’s The VelociPastor is pretty much accomplished with the title. Anyone who wants to see a movie called The VelociPastor is going to watch it regardless of the actual content, and nothing in the movie is likely to convince anyone turned off by the title to give it a second look. But for the people it’s made for, The VelociPastor is surprisingly fun to watch (at least for a little while), a step above the typical micro-budget movies with deliberately bad dialogue, acting and special effects, using the excuse of purposeful ineptitude to pre-emptively ward off any criticism. The VelociPastor definitely has some terrible special effects, and its writing and acting are variable at best. But Steere has a strong sense of humor, and he paces the movie briskly enough that there isn’t too much time to dwell on any particular missteps.
It helps that Steere has an enthusiastic performer in the lead role, who can actually imbue the ridiculous title character with something resembling genuine emotion. Gregory James Cohan plays Doug Jones, a Catholic priest who begins questioning his faith after witnessing the deaths of his parents in an automobile explosion. He heads to China (clearly just a local park) for some soul-searching, where he encounters a dying woman who passes him a dinosaur-tooth talisman. After Doug cuts his hand on the sharp tooth, he finds himself transforming into a rampaging dinosaur at inopportune moments, stuck with the curse of the “dragon warrior.”
Back home, Doug befriends local prostitute Carol (Alyssa Kempinski) after saving her from a would-be assailant, and she encourages him to use his dino-powers for good, taking on local criminals. Meanwhile, some sort of Christian ninja cult has followed Doug from China, and his boss/mentor Father Stewart (Daniel Steere) is getting suspicious about Doug’s extracurricular activities. The plot is completely nonsensical, of course, but Steere leans into the absurdity, and The VelociPastor is more of a parody of no-budget direct-to-video monster movies than an earnest effort to deliver thrills or suspense. With its occasional intruding boom mics and comically belabored exposition, it’s like Black Dynamite for the Asylum era.
At the same time, both Cohan and Kempinski give remarkably straightforward and even affecting performances, finding the right balance between winking at the audience and immersing themselves in their characters. The burgeoning romance between Doug and Carol is sort of sweet, and you might find yourself honestly rooting for them as a couple by the end of the movie. The other actors don’t fare as well, and the confusing nature of the villains is more frustrating than funny, even with the requisite “shocking” plot twists that Steere plays for laughs.
The movie is based on a 2011 short film that Steere made as a film student and posted online, which went viral enough that it convinced him there would be a market for a feature film. Presented as a fake trailer, the original VelociPastor runs less than four minutes, and even though it barely breaks the 70-minute mark, the feature version stretches its conceit pretty thin. Steere holds off on showing Doug’s full dinosaur form until the climax, but even the brief glimpses of his transformation show how shoddy and cheap-looking the effect is.
Sure, it’s amusing to see a guy running around in what looks like a papier-mâché costume from an elementary-school play (and is far closer to a miniature tyrannosaurus than a velociraptor), but after a while it’s just kind of sad. That applies to the movie as a whole, which is still a haphazard mess no matter how self-aware it is about its own stupidity.