A Failed "Elmer Gantry"
I found this movie very painful to watch--not because of the subject, but because of how badly it was done. The script was hackneyed and predictable, the acting phoned in, the sets and people all distressingly fakey. I don't doubt there were other films like this one--why else would I think I've seen it countless times?
It's a shame, because Martin could do skeezy characters really well--he did so notably in Pennies from Heaven, a much darker and more interesting film (although not an original). Martin was perfect for that part.
Debra Winger and Lola Davidovich had horribly stereotyped roles that were filled with wooden acting; they were, unfortunately stuck with a thuddingly unimaginative script.
While I love gospel choirs, the obvious syncing of the choir only emphasized the overall phoniness of the film. How much more effective it would have been, say, if we got to hear the chorus really singing out in the open as they rehearsed.
The revival tent show also seemed extremely overproduced--I mean, really, did they have all that equipment, scenery, and so on? If it had been brought down a notch, it would have been a bit more believable.
I wish the film would have rid itself of the upbeat scenes and bolstering and corny (no pun intended) background music, cuing the emotions. It could have worked as a contemporary version of Elmer Gantry, a far superior film (which actually was based on only a fraction of the novel), but LOF didn't trust the audience to get something out of cynicism and an unrepentant charlatan. Every character, every scene was an insulting cliche. It's a ham-handed effort that utterly fails to draw one into the world of charlatan revivalists.
I think Ricky Jay's knowledge (he acted as consultant) was wasted here. The tricks that were used (notwithstanding contemporary electronics) were better portrayed in Nightmare Alley, starring Tyrone Power.
Guess it proves that even Steve Martin can star in a stinker. Glad he did better work in other films.
One more thing: The whole drought/rain/miracle situation--weren't there, like, any weather forecasts in Kansas in the 1990's?