Directed by Paul Shrader

Starring Skeet Ulrich, Bridget Fonda, Christopher Walken, Tom Arnold, Janeane Garofalo, Gina Gershon, Paul Mazursky and Lolita Davidovich.


Opened: February 14, 1997 | Rated: R

Ruthlessly mocking religious zealotry, tabloid television and America's penchant for the sensational, "Touch," the latest film adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel, has the same off-beat sense of humor as his first book-to-film, "Get Shorty".

In "Touch," a disenchanted monk with a healing-touch stigmata (Skeet Ulrich) leaves the church to pursue his own ideas of god, in the process becoming the prize in an exploitation tug-of-war between a failed evangelist turned RV salesman (Christopher Walken) and a cult leader (Tom Arnold).

Thick with farce and irony, the story follows the somewhat innocent monk named Juvenal as finds himself dragged around Los Angeles while his two "friends" try to create a media feeding-frenzy by booking him on talk shows and proping him up at churches to parade crippled kids through for healing.

Always up for new experiences, he soon finds solace and tranquility in the bed of a publicity agent played by Bridget Fonda -- a relationship which begins to wreak havoc for his handlers.

Playing the church as an opportunistic power structure, as the mob was played in "Get Shorty," director Paul Shrader takes pot shots at organized religion that will likely offend anyone who is of a seriously faithful ilk. But his jabs at television journalism will likely bring cheshire grins to those savvy enough to find talk shows demeaning.

When Walken visits talk ratings queen Gina Gershon (doing a deadpan Leeza Gibbons), he pitches his client by promising "He'll heel the cripple of your choice, live on television!"

As Fonda tries to protect the somewhat naive Juvenal from his supporters and his detractors, he begins to become more at ease with the world of exploitation.

"Touch" has much the same flavor as "Shorty," both punctuated by Elmore's droll, targeted comedy and accompanied by jazzy soundtracks. It would be safe to say if you liked one, you'll like the other.

Like "Get Shorty," this film turns on it's performances. Walken is ironic perfection as the comeback evangelist. Tapping Arnold for the maniac born-again Christian was casting genius, and Fonda and Ulrich make a good couple who are only completely comfortable in the world when they are together and alone.

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