Leap Of Faith Richard Pearce

Faith healer Jonas Nightengale (Steve Martin) leads a caravan of salvation packed inside buses and semis rolling down the highway until they break down in a depressed Kansas backwater twon. Sharp-eyed sheriff (Liam Neeson) allows Nightengale to pitch his tent, despite his misgivings. Jonas's manager (Debra Winger) tries to seduce the sheriff, while Nightengale sets his sights on waitress Marva (Lolita Davidovich). The good reverend has the power to pick strangers out of the audience, zero in on their vulnerabilities (family suicide, unwanted pregnancy) then heal them with the touch of his hands. The town rises to it feet and empties its wallets, but not the sheriff, who denounces Nightengale as a fraud with a prison record. It literally takes a miracle to keep the preaching conman in town. The first two-thirds of Leap of Faith crackle with feverish excitement. Writer Janus Cercone and director Pearce skilfully up the ante between the fraudulent showman and the honest sheriff. Nightengale is offering some desperate people a good night's entertainment and hope. As the film's conscience, the sheriff considers Nightengale a leach, preying on farmers starving through a drought. Martin delivers one of the most ambitious performances of his career, but doesn't convince. Martin's screen persona is whimsical (L.A. Story) or farcical (Bowfinger). Here there's not enough introspection in Martin's Nightengale, and his sincerity feels forced. Debra Winger is excellent as the hidden eyes behind the revival shows, as is Lolita Davidovich, playing the sceptical Marva. Liam Neeson, however, is handicapped by an Irish accent, though his portrayal of the sheriff is heartfelt. Sadly, Leap of Faith never resolves its main conflict and falls back on easy resolutions. The ending is a disappointing cop-out. Just sinful. (Paramount)
(4AD)