Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

"After an intriguing start, it runs out of ideas."

With Elmore Leonard, the characters come first. They're never dull, always odd in interesting ways, as if normality was a dirty word. The plot imposes itself for convention's sake, like clothes on a circus chimp. His cast of scammers and misfits take time realising that this is not a Miami murder mystery, but something (hey, man!) spiritual.

Bill Hill (Christopher Walken) is a sharp-suited salesperson, jaded and born to it. He used to have a church on the highway with the largest neon cross ever seen, but something happened and people moved off. Now he sells more mundane merchandise. When he meets Juvenal (Skeet Ulrich), it changes his life.

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Juvenal was a trainee monk in South America, chilling with the rainforest dudes, before returning to the city, where he helps out at a rehab centre. He's a quiet, gentle, skinny kid, who has a natural gift of healing. Weirder than making the blind see is his stigmata. He bleeds from Christ's wounds. He can't help it. Bill Hill thinks "miracle worker" and signs him up.

The film teases the implication of such a phenomenon. Hill brings in Lynn Faulkner (Bridget Faulkner), who used to work for him at the church. She's a marketing, PR kind of person, temporarily off the media hype circuit, pulling what remains of her life together, avoiding the necessity to manipulate people full time.

Lynn knows that Bill will exploit Juvenal. She warns him, falls for him and attempts to protect him. He's easy. He doesn't care about TV interviews and stuff. He's naive and (a first for Leonard?) trusting. Meanwhile, August Murray (Tom Arnold), leader of a two-bit reactionary religious movement, is forcing his way into the act.

Bill tries to juggle Juvenal's innocence, Lynn's infatuation and August's anger, while leading his lamb to Debra Lusanne's (Gina Gershon) tabloid TV show and doing a deal with local hackette, Kathy Worthington (Janeane Garofalo), for a book. Paul Schrader plays it straight. The satire is spiked, although Gershon is good and Arnold magnificent, leaving Walken hanging onto straws. Ulrich has the looks of the next Johnny Depp and is definitely star material. Fonda works hard not to repeat her Jackie Brown role and succeeds with grace and style. The plot, which somehow creeps up and kidnaps the cast, doesn't know where it's going. After an intriguing start, it runs out of ideas.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A sharp-suited salesman aims to exploit a miracle worker.
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Director: Paul Schrader

Writer: Paul Schrader

Starring: Bridget Fonda, Christopher Walken, Skeet Ulrich, LL Cool J, Gina Gershon, John Doe

Year: 1997

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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