January 25, 1993 -- The latest Steve Martin movie might signal a subtle move toward more serious roles for the talented former stand up comic.
As the brassy revival preacher stuck in a dusty town down on its luck, Martin is more serious than silly in this movie that can't make up its mind to be cynical, funny or religious. It ends up being all three.
Martin, abandoned as a child, seems determined to get revenge upon humanity by bilking everyone for all he can get. When a miracle of faith finally happens he seems to be redeemed, but it isn't convincing.
Debra Winger puts in a solid performance as Martin's ``front man,'' but Liam Neeson and his Irish accent seem terribly out of place as a rural American sheriff. Lolita Davidovich almost disappears into the background as a waitress while Lukas Haas does a good job in the thankless role as a crippled boy. This film is a real mixed bag. The best scenes are those in the revival tent with Martin doing his preacher schtick, while the audience of rubes is taken in by electronic magic tricks. The revival music is top-notch.
The romance between Winger and Neeson doesn't really work, but the relationship between Winger and Martin is much more convincing. They act like they've been together too long and need something new in their lives.
Steve Martin fans should like this film because it does showcase Martin's talents pretty well. The problem is, director Richard Pearce and writer Janus Cercone try to make fun of revival preachers while staying serious about religion and that is a recipe that doesn't quite cut the mustard. There is some redemption in the way the movie ends and that ending is a real surprise.
This film rates a C.
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