Touch Paul Schrader

The combination of a cool novel by Elmore Leonard and uncool screenwriter/director Paul Schrader seems like a good idea on paper. Who better to handle the story of a lonely miracle worker in flight from exploiters and avenging consciences than the author of Taxi Driver and the king of conflicted Calvinism? But this instantly forgotten 1997 footnote is so lazily directed that you can’t bring yourself to dig through the wreckage for auteurist comparisons. Skeet Ulrich gives a nonentity performance as Juvenal, the survivor of an ultra-conservative Catholic sect who not coincidentally has the power to heal the sick with his touch. This puts him between the rock of parasitic schemer Christopher Walken, who wants to use him for financial reward, and the hard place of Catholic zealot Tom Arnold(!), who wants him to return to the fold and use his good works to push his organisation. In the middle is Bridget Fonda, who introduces him to love and the idea that maybe he ought to be his own free agent rather than someone else’s pawn. There’s the kernel of a good idea here, and Schrader would have been up to the task 15 years earlier. But something in the intervening years seems to have sapped his strength, and he phones in this picture with shrill caricatures and a lackadaisical mise-en-scene. There’s nothing, save Ulrich’s terrifying geometric goatee, that makes any kind of visual impact, and the awkward casting seems less the product of the right person for the part than the rounding up of B-list celebrities to justify a video release. Throw in Gina Gershon as a smug parody of a talk show host and you have a recipe for climbing the walls and cursing Schrader for not giving more of a damn. (MGM)