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Don't be fooled by the subject matter - an ex-monk, who can heal the sick
touching them, but suffers stigmata each time and gets caught up in a
of religious fanatics, big-business evangelists and ratings-hungry media -
this is a sweet and touching romantic comedy!
Leave it to Paul Schrader to find a way to do some heavy soul-searching without getting heavy-handed, yet always remaining quirky as we know him from his dramas. A wonderful supporting cast (Christopher Walken, Tom Arnold, Janeane Garofalo, Lolita Davidovich and Gina Gershon) adds color and texture to the story without detracting from the quiet chemistry going on between Skeet Ulrich and Bridget Fonda. When Ulrich says without grandeur that he believes in God and miracles, you don't even think twice about it - you believe every word he says at face value. A rare performance.
While TOUCH may not be up to the level of GET SHORTY, OUT OF SIGHT, or JACKIE BROWN, it's not a bad little movie. Certainly it's an odd book from Leonard, as he admitted in his introduction, but it worked for me, and given Paul Schraeder's history with religious themed films(TAXI DRIVER, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST), it seemed natural he would direct. This is not a great movie, because Schraeder doesn't go as deep as Leonard did into his characters, and some of the humor doesn't translate. But most of it does, and this avoids the heavy-handedness of most movies about angels/healers/devils. Part of that is due to Skeet Ulrich, who should avoid hearing Johnny Depp comparisons after this movie, because he shows a personality all of his own. And Bridget Fonda pairs up nicely with him. This movie even gets a good performance out of Tom Arnold. All in all, underrated and deserves checking out.
Elmore Leonard novels tend to deal with sleazy characters operating at the
fringes of society. "Touch" is a strange book in that the sleaze bags are
presented in a different light. They're not the obvious con men, but they
are people that are trying to take advantage of a situation that is
perceived as a money producing scheme.
Paul Schrader has adapted and directed, but the essence of the book is somehow elusive by what is presented to us. Yes, we realize that Bill Hill is into making a fast buck if he can sell Juvenal as the miracle worker with supernatural powers. In fact, this theme has been done more successfully in other films.
What the director accomplishes are good performances from his cast. At times the movie feels flat and without a clear direction as where it wants to go; we don't care too much about Juvenal after he loses his 'touch' and he becomes a mere mortal.
Skeet Ulrich is excellent as Juvenal; this actor is always a welcome sight in any movie he is in. Christopher Walken turns a controlled performance as Bill Hill, the man in search of a good con that will do anything to get it done. Bridget Fonda is also low key as Lynn, the skeptical woman who sees good in Juvenal and ends up falling for him. Also very effective is Tom Arnold, the man that wants to take the church into the right path and will stop at nothing to protect his own views.
Paul Schrader can be very erratic as a director. I think Affliction is his best film, by far, and this movie and Blue Collar are his next best. That said, you cannot be immune to the basic conceit and find it provocative, much less enjoyable. If you can accept that the Skeet Ulrich character may have St. Francis like qualities, and can really heal sick and handicapped people, Touch is a wonderful film. Christopher Walken (as always) is excellent as the ambitions and unseemly tent-show preacher, hell bent on making a fortune from the "healer-man"; and the others in the cast, Bridget Fonda, Anthony Zerbe and Tom Arnold especially, are excellent, too. Arnold, in particular, brings an amazing zeal and perfect, inadvertent humour to his portrayal of a slightly militarist, born again, religious fanatic. Certainly the movie raises more questions than it answers, and it is not quite as spiritually provocative or deep as Bigas Luna's Renacer, but it is certainly well worth watching.
Occasionally Elmore Leonard writes about something other than the underworld. Here his wonderful dialogue and amusing characters are centered around, not a bank robber or ex-con, but a young man who receives miraculous stigmata. The tone is stirical and the comedy is quite dark; definitely worth a look. After Get Shorty Hollywood seemed to finally get how to translate Leonard to the screen, and Touch certainly belongs in the company of Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, and Out of Sight. The cast is perfect in this one, with Skeet Ulrich and Bridget Fonda the best they've been so far, plus Christopher Walken in full glory, and Tom Arnold (yes, That Tom Arnold) just dead on as a religious zealot. This one didn't get much of a theatrical run so go find it at the video store.
`You are an odour in the nostrils of God,' jabbers religious zealot August
Murray (Tom Arnold). He is damning sometime revivalist Bill Hill's
(Christopher Walken) cynical marketing of Christ-like figure Juvenal (Skeet
Ulrich essentially playing Edward Scissorhands minus the blades). Hill
wearing a glitzy gold jacket and an enormous `Thank You Jesus' necklace sees
a book deal and a slot on the awful Debra Lusanne Show (Gina Gershon superb
at mimicking Ricki Lake with a snarl) for the innocent healer, who has
stigmata on his rib cage.
In lesser hands than Paul Schrader, Elmore Leonard's non-crime novel could have become an overwrought toil in the evils of America's salacious media. However, Touch is actually a wryly amusing and unhurried look at faith and exploitation. The histrionics and belly laughs are bestowed upon the cameos, who obviously capture the best lines: `Do they make condoms that protect the soul' (Arnold) and `Controversy is the oxygen I breathe' (Gershon). Ultimately, best savoured on video. --Ben Walsh
Interesting characters and a great cast, but the script really left them with nowhere to go. Bridget Fonda was lovely and I will check out her work in other films (last one of hers I saw was Doc Hollywood in 1991). Will also keep a lookout for Skeet Ulrich who brought a nice blend of charm and mystique to the role of the central character. Christopher Walken is competent as usual, but this is not the sort of part I enjoy seeing him play. Tom Arnold did a good job as the obsessed religious fanatic. I found the labeling of this movie as a comedy strange, but it is hard to say how else it should be categorized. It is definitely a subtle and wry brand of humor. I don't think I laughed aloud even once. One thought provoking thing about the movie is that it shows that people can do good things without being wholly good, and bad things without being wholly bad. That may sound obvious, but too often movie characters are one-dimensional. For example if someone is exploitive (especially in a comedy), they also turn out to be evil to the core. A better script with some added time for plot development would have made this a much more satisfying picture.
I did not start watching this movie as an Elmor Leonard novelization come to film. In fact I wasn't aware that it was a Leonard novel until I just accessed this page. This said, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I originally checked it out of the video store because of Christopher Walken's involvement, plus I had seen an interview with Bridget Fonda on the making of the movie, and found the concept to be intriguing. I found the characters, acting and direction on target for the subject matter, the way that recent journalistic direction and everyday cynicism would effect the life of a person with real God-given talents. The experiences that Juvenal goes through are realistic, as are his reactions. Definitely grist for reflection, and I'm an atheist. All in all, don't go into this movie expecting it to be something it's not, and you won't be
"Touch" sticks Ulrich at the center as a young man with stigmata and maybe something more...healing power, the second coming, whatever. Around him are sundry characters ranging from mildly peculiar to very peculiar who want to use his questionable power to suit their own agendas. This unfortunate flick appears to be telling a story but fizzles in the end. A very unsatisfying, forgettable watch and a waste of a good cast. In short, a flop.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Writer/Director Paul Schrader continued his eclectic career with this
film based on an Elmore Leonard novel about an uncharismatic healer
(with stigmata) whom others wish to exploit for their own purposes.
Skeet Ulrich, plays the healer Juvenal with just the right amount of
curiosity, emotional detachment, and innocence. The always watchable
Christopher Walken plays the scheming Bill Hill, a disgraced evangelist
of the worst kind more concerned with drumming up business than saving
souls. His plan is to enlist his significant other Lynn, Bridget Fonda,
to infiltrate a rehabilitation clinic (where Juvenal is holed up) in
order to gain Juvenal's trust before she and Hill make their
exploitation pitches. The trouble is she falls in love with Juvenal,
creating more than just a few problems. Meanwhile, August Murray,
wonderfully played by Tom Arnold, is a religious zealot who sees
through Bill's and Lynn's schemes, and he goes all out to block their
attempts to exploit Juvenal while trying to get Juvenal behind his own
agenda against the Catholic Church. Arnold's character is essentially
the religious zealot version of Michael Douglas' character William
Foster in Falling Down.
Schrader has concocted a complex comedy/drama about religion, belief, and love without being exploitative himself, which is no small feet considering the subject matter. There's a problem with the film in that it's not entirely successful with how it treats its subject. Some viewers will be put off by the comedic contrast between the Walken, Fonda, and Arnold-influenced scenes compared to Juvenal's healing scenes. It's difficult to tap an emotional response to Juvenal because viewers won't necessarily be sure of Schrader's intent. However, the performances are genuine enough, the characters are enjoyable, and the screenplay is above average with dialog that is as clever as it is humorous. Gina Gershon, Janeane Garofalo, and Lolita Davidovitch all offer great support. Viewers who are familiar with Schrader's religious background will no doubt garner some enjoyment from the film, while other viewers may have trouble with the subject matter all together. Director Paul Mazursky plays Artie. *** of 4 stars.
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