Touch Review

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This is one of those neat little films that doesn't quite add up, but has more going for it than many a blockbuster. Adapted by director-writer Schrader from an atypical Elmore Leonard novel, it has a great cast down to the bit-players and cruises along in jaunty style, taking its tone from the hyperactive Walken's cool suits, an infectious jangle of music, Fonda's perfectly-formed near-neurosis and Ulrich's bizarre mix of Shaggy from Scooby Doo and Saint Francis.

Juvenal (Ulrich), an ex-Franciscan monk working at an alcohol rehab centre, is blessed with a healing touch. The blind see and the cancerous go into remission when he lays hand on them and he is struck by stigmata - the bleeding wounds of Jesus. Naturally, when salvationist huckster-cum-RV salesman Bill Hill (Walken) stumbles over Juvenal, the dollar signs light up in his eyes and he sticks music biz reptile Lynn (Fonda) onto him. Also jockeying around for a slice of the pie are Catholic militia nut Tom Arnold, cynical journo Janeane Garofalo, talkshow tyrant Gina Gershon, rock promoter Paul Mazursky and devoted mother-cum-topless dancer Lolita Davidovich.

Ulrich, who manages to be saintly without being sickening, falls for and redeems the hard-bitten Fonda, who does her best to protect him though his mix of naivet_ and smarts constantly suggests a higher purpose. The plot twists around in the wind a little too much, and it pays off with an amusing if overly neat miracle on daytime TV, but everyone concerned - especially Arnold, who does his best screen work to date - gives good value eccentricity. The agony of Schrader's signature works is toned down almost to the point of sunniness, but there are some serious points about the difference between God and religion.