The main pleasure of this comedy is that it's completely forgettable. LEAP OF FAITH's lively spirit doesn't require any great thought, and star Steve Martin avoids much of the pretentious sentimentality that has plagued such recent work as L.A. STORY and FATHER OF THE BRIDE. Here, the wild
and crazy guy is back, making you realize how much you missed him.
Phony traveling evangelist Jonas Nightengale (Martin) and his employees set up shop in a small Kansas town after their bus breaks down. With the aid of his savvy partner Jane (Debra Winger), who directs him through a hidden microphone, Jonas takes the locals' money and cons them into believing he
can perform miracles, including helping a wheelchair-bound woman stand. Although honest town sheriff Will (Liam Neeson) falls for Jane, he mistrusts Jonas and tries to run him out of town. Meanwhile, Jonas pursues local waitress Marva (Lolita Davidovich), whose brother Boyd (Lukas Haas) lost the
use of his legs in a car accident. Marva resists Jonas's advances because another preacher had once exploited her brother in a religious show.
When Jonas paints open eyes on a statue of Jesus, the townspeople declare it a miracle, and crowds jam the church to see the preacher. Will exposes Jonas's criminal past to the audience, but the preacher wins over the crowd with his oratory. In a genuinely miraculous turn of events that baffles
and disturbs Jonas, Boyd regains the ability to walk during the show. When Boyd wants to leave town as part of Jonas's crooked caravan, however, Jonas can't live with his conscience. He hitches a ride out of town, leaving the boy with his sister and a happy Jane with Will. As Jonas leaves, the
rain the drought-ridden townspeople have long prayed for begins to fall.
LEAP OF FAITH is a surprisingly gentle send-up of evangelism, not the hardest of targets. But Martin's character has more depth than most of his recent roles, making the movie an interesting character study of a man who can smoothly (and hilariously) rationalize cheating people out of their money.
To Jonas, his brand of religion doesn't hurt anyone because it gives people entertainment. Martin is especially good with Winger, herself rebounding from a string of lackluster performances. (It's nice to see her good-humored, brassy personality used to good advantage.) Their relationship is a
loving one that includes a lot of mutual jealousy, leading one to wonder why they aren't a romantic couple. Jonas gives Jane a puppy and a ruby ring during the movie, further confusing the issue.
Liam Neeson is so romance-novel-hunky that he manages to make you believe Winger could give up the excitement of the road for domesticity. The two of them don't even look ridiculous when they are surrounded by butterflies in the film's most corny romantic scene. The only trouble is, Neeson's thick
Irish accent does seem distinctly out of place in Kansas. Meat Loaf, who plays bus driver and organist Hoover, has a natural presence; it would have been fun to see him as more of a comic foil for Martin.
Jonas's evangelist show reminds you of Martin's famous stand-up act--the "happy feet" come alive in the tent revival scenes. In these moments, director Richard Pearce wisely sets the camera back to show off Martin's graceful physical presence. Backed by the gospel choir "The Angels of Mercy,"
Jonas never stops moving around the stage. Jane's backstage microphone directions to Jonas are funny, as she pinpoints physical and emotional problems of audience members that the evangelist can exploit during the act.
Although the pace is consistently energetic, the melodramatic subplot involving Jonas and Boyd is cloying, mainly because the young boy's character is so saccharine-sweet. Our credibility is also strained by the ease with which Jonas manages to con an entire community. Overall, however, this is
one of Martin's better, lighter vehicles. (Sexual situations, adult situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1992
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: The main pleasure of this comedy is that it's completely forgettable. LEAP OF FAITH's lively spirit doesn't require any great thought, and star Steve Martin avoids much of the pretentious sentimentality that has plagued such recent work as L.A. STORY and F… (more)