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Please distribute this URL as you see fit. By Ted Baldwin
Keeping the Faith
Reviewed: 4/8/00

     Overly long excursion into two faiths in NYC is sometimes funny, sometimes not so funny, with a penchant for the dramatic.

     Stiller is still the only thing worth the trip.

Copyright 2000 Ted Baldwin   Copyright 2000 Ted Baldwin   Copyright 2000 Ted Baldwin
Five possible.
Tagline: If you have to believe in something, You might as well believe in love.
     Where do they make this stuff up? The Lame Tagline Factory? Who is that supposed to appeal to? Are they afraid of the idea of believing in God? Are they afraid they will offend and/or alienate the Atheist audience?
     There were some genuinely funny moments in KTF, but by and large, it does nothing to inspire me. And if you don't like religious double entendres like that one, then you will not really enjoy this.

     Jake and Brian and Anna are childhood friends reunited after 15 year's separation. And the whole film is about who loves who, and will the priest forsake his vows. Not really compelling. He will or he won't. Not too many shades.

     I will confess (damn, there I go again), my problem with this film is Edward Norton. Plain and simple, he falls into the class of film "Auteur" who is magically capable of running the whole show. Jerry Lewis made that mistake, and Gene Wilder - two eminently funny naturals who cannot direct themselves. Brooks does better at it, but even his films would be better had he acted or directed. (And I don't mean cameos, like M. Night Shyamalan in Sixth Sense). At least Norton didn't write this one.

     And that is that.

     Norton does OK, but as director, he does not know what to look for in himself that he doesn't already know about. He can deliver anything but the unexpected, and that is what distinguishes a great comedy director - goading your people into doing things contrary to their nature, or knowing when to quit. No one can step that far outside of themselves to deliver that, and that is not a criticism of Norton. The criticism of Norton is that we are not as in love with him as he seems to be. And I guess that really is a criticism of us.

     From nowhere to everywhere following on the heels of American History X, Norton will be center stage for a long time, and though it is tempting for him to do everything himself, it will be much more rewarding to the body of work he will produce if he concentrates on one job at a time - direct or act.

     But this review rambles a little, like KTF. Their story is not all that interesting, and I got the feeling that an entire substory was cut out - meaning the outcast brother who seems to be important to the flow of events, but never makes an appearance. He is just - in this version - some convenient abstract.

     And we are never given the satisfaction of seeing the Synagogue Board's deliberation on the future of the Rabbi Schram - we just hear the results at the end. Possibly more a casualty of the running time than the written story. There is no reason for this to drag on, except Norton is wont to explore his characters with too much detail and not enough depth. And conflict is resigned to the characters imagining their plights, instead of actually being in dire straights.

     Everything grinds to a halt at the end, with one of the principals delivering a gruesome confession not once but twice, and not just to his beloved, but to an entire office. Why should anyone have to endure that humiliation? Why would anyone? Rang false for me, but the audience seemed to like the film. There was a lot of laughter, and I was laughing too. Maybe I am just OTR. For life.

     Of all things, Eli Wallach, who played Tuco Benedito Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez in The Good The Bad and The Ugly, is an old, retiring Rabbi. Amazing. And Anne Bancroft is Schram's mom. And there are others you will recognize.

     All in all, not a bad film, with a few moments, like blending the Harlem Choir into a Jewish Service, but it could have been less and been more. And the only question I have is "Where was God?".
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