'Touch' has its magic moments

February 14, 1997|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

Zany, wacky, goofy and even pretty darn nutty, here comes "Touch," which refers not to low-impact football but to the finger of the Almighty.

Derived from an Elmore Leonard novel by Paul ("Taxi Driver") Schrader and starring Christopher Walken, the movie carries with it expectations that everybody is only too happy to smash to pieces. No, darn it, it's not a sleazy, violent, tensely plotted, quirky tale of small-beer crooks and cops, as one might expect from the magic teaming of the Leonard, Schrader and Walken sensibilities.

Instead, it's a look at the hustle at the far margins of organized Christianity, where the authentic hucksters and the authentic miracle workers rub shoulders and miracles, and squabble over dollars and souls. It sees faith as a growth industry.

Skeet Ulrich plays a former Franciscan brother who appears to have an authentic touch for healing. His powers have begun to stir rumors, and one who encounters them is a former evangelical minister named Bill Hill (Walken), now selling Rec-Vs. Hill manages to nudge a former baton twirler (Bridget Fonda) to infiltrate his circle and get the goods on him.

She falls in love with him instead, even as Hill is trying to gull him into "signing" with him. (Is he an angel or a shortstop?) Meanwhile, a talk-show hostess (Gina Gershon), a reporter (Janeane Garofalo) and a nut (Tom Arnold) circle about like sharks, hungry for their taste of his talent or the career goose he can provide them.

Walken's is the best performance. His Bill Hill is both a huckster and a believer and at some level believes he too is doing God's work on earth. Walken is probably the only actor on earth who could make this duality believable, even touching. As a loony-tune trying to return Latin to the Mass, even at gunpoint if he has to, Arnold is pretty amusing; everybody else is standard.

This isn't a great movie by any means, but it's consistently amusing and quite watchable.


Starring Christopher Walken

Directed by Paul Schrader

Released by MGM

Rated R (nudity)

Sun score: ** 1/2

Pub Date: 2/14/97

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