Faith Lost in Silly Film
Forgive them, for they know not what they do. That seems an appropriate prayer for the filmmakers of Keeping the Faith. Whatever religious messages they intended to impart are lost in the movie’s contrived script. To make things even worse, lackluster performances by stars Edward Norton, Ben Stiller, and Jenna Elfman contribute to the failure of this uninspiring romantic comedy.
Viewers of Keeping the Faith are expected to believe the following: (a) three people, who haven’t seen each other since the 8th grade, get together 16 years later and immediately become better friends than ever; (b) a Catholic priest (Norton), concealing his vocation, goes on a double-date with a famous newswoman; (c) a Jewish rabbi (Stiller) engages in a shouting match with a priest in his own synagogue; (d) a workaholic businesswoman (Elfman) finds time to connect with two childhood friends; and . . . well, you get the picture.
Making his directorial debut here, Oscar-winner Norton (Primal Fear) clearly shows he is a novice at filmmaking. What happened to the impressive energy this talented actor usually brings to his work? There’s no excitement in Norton’s direction, nor in his acting, in Keeping the Faith. Stiller, so convincingly funny in There’s Something About Mary, follows Norton’s lead and appears lethargic in most of his scenes. But both actors are better than Elfman (Dharma and Greg). Although a gifted comedienne, she has trouble with dramatic sequences --- and there are several of these in Keeping the Faith. She’s like Lucille Ball playing Scarlet O’Hara.
A talented supporting cast makes this boring film almost watchable at times. Just look at these names --- Anne Bancroft, Eli Wallach, Ron Rifkin, Holland Taylor, Milos Forman (yes, the famous director of Amadeus and Man on the Moon). But the screen only comes to life when the amazing Ken Leung (Rush Hour) takes center stage as an aggressive karaoke equipment salesman. He’s hilarious!
As the Good Book states, in the beginning was the word. The man responsible for the words in Keeping the Faith is former MadTV writer Stuart Blumberg, a friend of Norton’s since they attended Yale University together. According to the press notes, Blumberg wanted to present the young priest and rabbi as everyday people. "I like characters who people feel, for whatever reason, are outside their realm of experience and show the common humanity that links them," he explains.
Blumberg’s story attempts to cover a variety of humanistic themes --- the value of friendship, the pain of a love triangle, the updating of religious practices, and the harmful effects of religious prejudices. This is an ambitious undertaking for a first-time screenwriter. One almost feels like going to confession for panning his film. Still, as Sam Goldwyn once said, "If you want to deliver a message, send a telegram!" First and foremost, movies must be entertaining. Too bad Keeping the Faith violates that important commandment.
(Released by Touchstone Pictures and rated "PG-13" for sexuality and language.)