Billed as a story of faith, hope and fraud, this is an old-fashioned picture of a con man preacher, his travelling ministry and a non-denominationally miraculous, caring, sharing turn of events.
It is also, however, a tiresomely unfunny misfire, with Steve Martin's peddler of miracles and wonders, Jonas Nightengale, an implausible, deeply dislikable chap. Nightengale's operation involves a carnival of collaborators, including a gospel choir, a slimmed-down Meat Loaf, and tour manager-partner Debra Winger whose capabilities for cruel fraud would see her selling her junk bonds on Wall Street rather than hustling for loose change in a circus tent.
Meanwhile Martin misemploys his skill at physical comedy, illusion and verbal riffing in an eccentric routine that would work as a parody of a fundamentalist preacher in a Broadway musical comedy, but not one that would convince a tough if desperate congregation in Kansas. Throw in Lolita Davidovich as a worn waitress with a crippled little brother (Luke Haas) in need of both male bonding and a miracle, Liam Neeson as a suspicious but all-too-easily smitten sheriff, and a crowd of stereotypical God-fearing folk, and the result is a way-too-clever shakedown scenario with nowhere to go but into the flimsiest of pseudo-spiritual whimsy.
And since the most basic requirement of Feelgood Comedy is that the audience identify with somebody's triumph over adversity, only the most die-hard Martin lover wil manage to leap this chasm.