Keeping The Faith

on April 14, 2000 by Michael Tunison
   In his short screen career to date, Edward Norton has earned acclaim for his performances in edgy films like "American History X" and "Fight Club," so the fact that he would make his directorial debut with a project as safely conventional as the romantic comedy "Keeping the Faith" is a bit of a head-scratcher. As it turns out, even with such winning co-stars as Ben Stiller ("There's Something About Mary") and Jenna Elfman ("EDtv") on board, Norton's uneven first filmmaking effort rarely distinguishes itself from the sort of routine studio fare he previously went out of his way to avoid as an actor.

   Norton and Stiller play longtime friends who follow the call to become a priest and a rabbi, respectively. Hip, funny and wise enough about matters of faith to make Bing Crosby's swingin' Father O'Malley proud, they're on the way to energizing their neighboring New York congregations when another childhood pal--now a world-conquering businesswoman (Elfman)--reenters their lives. It comes as no surprise that the trio's old friendship evolves into a love triangle. The surprise is how long Norton takes to set up this principal conflict--much of the reason this light comedy stretches on to a sympathy-taxing 129 minutes.

   Part of the difficulty in cutting the film down to a more manageable length may have been that many of the funniest scenes--including a howler featuring Ken Leung's karaoke-equipment salesman belting out a passionate rendition of "Jessie's Girl"--are totally extraneous to the plot. Stiller's trademark nervous flounderings through the treacherous waters of modern relationships are often hilarious, but Norton has less luck doing the Woody Allen thing in his blander role. In the end, it seems to be God's plan that he join the long line of actors who have self-directed some of their least memorable performances. Starring Edward Norton, Ben Stiller, Jenna Elfman and Anne Bancroft. Directed by Edward Norton. Written by Stuart Blumberg. Produced by Hawk Koch, Edward Norton and Stuart Blumberg. A Buena Vista release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for some sexuality and language. Running time: 129 min

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