Leap of Faith

(Richard Pearce, USA, 1992)


Leap of Faith is an entirely lacklustre and unconvincing variation on the theme of public deception so dear to popular cinema (see the contemporaneous The Distinguished Gentleman, 1992).

If you've ever seen any of the memorable movies about religious hucksterism, from Elmer Gantry (1960) to Bigas Luna's Reborn (1984), you know what's in store here: an exposé of corrupt showbiz tricks; a portrait of the gullible, desperate mob; an ambiguous turning point when it seems that an actual miracle has inadvertently taken place.

Steve Martin plays Jonas Nightengale, who hits the depressed Kansas town of Rustwater with his crack team of misfit accomplices led by Debra Winger. His nemesis is the stolid, good-guy sheriff (Liam Neeson).

As directed by Richard Pearce (No Mercy, 1986) and scripted by Janus Cercone, the story keeps setting up and then evading its most deliciously cruel possibilities. Martin's star turn is absolutely bizarre, quipping and strutting his way through revival meetings like some demented New York performance artist.

© Adrian Martin August 1993

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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