Keeping the Faith

PG13
Stars: Edward Norton, Ben Stiller, Jenna Elfman
Director: Edward Norton
Writer: Stuart Blumberg

The only real bright spot in this dud of a romantic comedy is Jenna Elfman. It’s hardly the type of movie you’d expect actor Edward Norton to be cutting his teeth on as a director, yet here it is: quite unbelievable, overly long and for the most part, not particularly funny.

Norton plays Brian Finn, a Roman Catholic priest who finds himself in a predicament involving old elementary school chums, Jake Schram (Stiller), his best friend who’s a rabbi and Anna Reilly (Elfman), who’s energy on a spring, lives a pressure-cooker life as a corporate problem solver.

The men, over the years have proved themselves successful as ultra modern religious figures adept at packing their respective houses for giddy sermons and events which are run more like comedy central routines. One day, Anna, who hasn’t seen the boys since eighth grade, rolls into New York City and the jive-talking, basketball playing, four letter spouting “God Squad” team of Finn and Schram are reduced to 13 year old boys again. For Schram it’s a relief to get away from the Jewish mothers trying to set him up their daughters, but for Finn, whose emotions have always been diminished for the greater glory of God, it becomes a dilemma. He’s picking up signs that Anna may like him more than just as a friend. Funny thing, Jake gets the same signs only his come to be played out. The happy go-lucky threesome are no more once Finn gets left out of the picture – that literally and figuratively because Norton definitely takes a back seat to Stiller in this film. What could have been great conflict, had this been a drama, is reduced to mild disillusion and an excuse to have the Irish Finn take to drink and public drunkenness. Jake’s biggest problems are commitment and agonizing his mother over his involvement with the possibility of a non-Jewish mate.

Lotta says: So is it funny to have a rabbi and a priest fall for the same girl? Is it funny for them to be hip-hop types with trash mouths? Maybe it’s just me. I did chuckle on a few rare occasions when the gags transcended the material. I thought Elfman had great personality on screen. But I was disappointed with the story and the boys. Norton is far better than this and Stiller – well, he’ll always be Stiller – doing the same schtick and it fits him nicely. But, so what.

Additional cast includes: Anne Bancroft as Ruth, Eli Wallach as Rabbi Lewis, Milos Forman as Father Havel, Holland Taylor as Bonnie Rose, Rena Sofer as Rachel Rose.

Reviewed 4/22/01