Author Neale Donald Walsch has claimed to be a conduit for the voice of God, humbly translating the infinite mysteries of the Almighty into easy-to-digest platitudes suitable for use in a desktop calendar. With the film version, director Stephen Simon has translated Walsch's mega-selling book into a tepid, insufferable feature suitable for basic cable purgatory in heavy rotation on the Hallmark channel. In fact, everything about this bargain-basement production from the lighting and directing to the parade of cheap-looking fake beards on lead actor Henry Czerny practically screams "made for TV," but a limited theatrical release must've been mandated by the huge success of the book, in hopes of fooling the audience twice.
Instead of a 90-minute internal monologue, the movie uses extensive flashbacks to recount Walsch's rise from homeless vagrant to millionaire religious huckster. After getting the boot from his cushy radio gig and getting his neck broken in a car accident, the aging Walsch (Czerny) finds himself broke, unemployable and hopeless, Dumpster-diving for half-eaten sandwiches. He makes his way to a campground populated by other indigents, who become his de facto, if extremely smelly, extended family, and they teach him how to survive. These scenes have all the realism and subtlety of an A-Team episode, especially when we're to believe that Walsch never once touched a bottle of booze, even while living in a hobo community awash in rotgut.
His ticket back to respectable society comes from a help wanted ad for a weekend on-air host, a position he lands by improbably telling the program director, "I can make people listen to the sounds of leaves falling on the radio." There are some other victories and setbacks, including three different female muses, one of whom rejects his clumsy advances at a bus stop. But soon enough he's having late night gabfests with the heavens, and turns them into a lucrative book deal. It seems we are supposed to take comfort in Neale's transformation into a pampered wise man whose every hokey homily is taken as a profound article of divine truth and we are to excuse him for not offering a solitary dime to the struggling souls who still wallow in the mud from which he has just freed himself.
The script is so fawning and shamelessly self-aggrandizing that you'd think it was written by Putnam's marketing department, if it weren't credited to screenwriter hack Eric DelaBarre. It's almost impossible to describe the film's mixture of boredom and sanctimony, except to say that it qualifies as a new kind of camp, though not one worthy of a lasting cult; one viewing of this pap is more than enough.
Showing at the Birmingham 8 (211 S. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-644-3456).
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].