Keeping The Faith suffers from multiple personality disorder. It starts out as a slapstick farce complete with people falling down, religious figures wearing sunglasses, and women pathetically (and allegedly hilariously) desperate to marry. Thankfully, the movie switches gears and becomes a more sensitive, though unsurprising, romantic comedy. Sporadic bursts of Three Stooges-esque humor rear up, but then the stable personality regains control.
Keeping The Faith revolves around the friendship between Ben Stiller as Rabbi Jacob Schram, Edward Norton as Father Brian Finn, and Jenna Elfman as Anna Reilly. They were a tight group when they were kids. Rabbi Schram and Father Finn remained close after Anna moved away and broke up the threesome. Anna suddenly returns years later as a powerful, beautiful corporate executive and shakes up the lives of her old friends.
It’s a fairly standard formula, two friends competing for the affections of a third, but Keeping The Faith adds a Jackie Mason joke set-up: a priest and a rabbi fall in love with this woman. The premise is fairly open to possibilities, but the payoff is lukewarm. Part of the problem, if you ask me, is that Ed Norton isn’t good at goofy humor. He’s a great actor, without question, but his good-natured pratfalls and mugging are kind of embarrassing. Not that he’s a performer without humor by any means, it’s just that the humor he’s capable of has been mostly based in cynicism ( Fight Club) or irony (his musical number that’s right, he sings in Everyone Says I Love You). If he wants to go the Carrey/Sandler physical routine path, he’s got some work to do.
Ben Stiller is good as Rabbi Schram. Stiller’s is always an enjoyable presence in a movie, though his range is debatable. Rabbi Schram is a temper tantrum or two away from Mr. Furious of Mystery Men. Perhaps range is not an issue if he’s generally making good decisions about roles. The big surprise in Keeping The Faith is Jenna Elfman. I can’t stand Dharma And Greg. At all. I was expecting to seethe and roll my eyes at her, but she really was all of the things Anna was supposed to be: beautiful, charming, funny, and warm. It made sense that the priest and the rabbi would fall for her. It’s possible that Jenna Elfman could actually be a strong romantic comedy lead. It’s also possible that this was a fluke and that she’ll stink up the big screen from here on out. But right now, after Keeping The Faith, her future looks like it will extend beyond tv.
Keeping The Faith starts out as a spaz and never really recovers from the silliness. Before Jenna Elfman appeared, it was almost like two different movies spliced together. The movie also suffers from an occasional lapse into what feels like ad-libbing. This is Edward Norton’s directorial debut, and it sometimes felt a little awkward, like things could have moved along more efficiently. Nonetheless, it’s admirable that Norton would pick something this different from his usual choices. Comedy isn’t easy. This is two-thirds of a not-bad movie.
+ David Kern