When we last saw Ed Norton, he was setting up a club where men beat the living crap out of each other. Before that, he was strutting around with a swastika tattooed on his buffed-up pecs, crushing the skull of an unfortunate car-thief. And, before that, he was upsetting poker games as a seedy card shark. So excuse us for being surprised that his first foray into directing should result in a romantic comedy in which he plays a polite but clumsy Catholic priest with a penchant for karaoke.
Now, don't expect Keeping The Faith to take any sudden twists down any dark, dangerous alleyways just because Norton is at the helm. The first-time lens-pointer keeps his movie on the comfortable, well-lit rom-com main street, steering it through the usual route of relationship founded, relationship hits problems, relationship falls apart, relationship saved in final minutes before it's all too late. This is simply an old-fashioned romance with an old-fashioned plot.
Yet, thanks to a sharp script and a trio of well-balanced comic performances from Norton, Jenna Elfman and Ben Stiller, it's also a very enjoyable, old-fashioned romance which emanates warmth without gushing schmaltz.
The gags all hit exactly the right spot, whether they're slapstick (Stiller accidentally winding a date with a mis-timed gut-punch) or verbal (Norton quizzing his congregation on the Seven Deadly Sins, then, when greeted with silence, crying: ""Come on! It was a Brad Pitt movie!""). The drama is carefully handled to, offering moments of acute heartache when things start going wrong for the three friends - - certain scenes elicit such empathy that you'll have to stop yourself shouting: ""Don't do this to yourself, for Christ's sake!""
Neither Stiller nor Elfman ever outstay their on-screen welcome, with the There's Something About Mary star turning on the charisma, while presenting us with a realistically flawed character, and Elfman, deserving congratulations for doing `sassy' without ever grating on the nerves. But it's a shame that Norton, who is easily the most talented of the three, and has the most interesting part, takes a backseat plot-wise for a good hour or so, leaving his two co-stars most of the action. This may well be generous of him, but surely a love triangle requires three protagonists.
Still, with an actor of his calibre, that's a natural reaction, and his absence is forgivable seeing as we know he's spending all of that time behind the camera, delivering an assured and well-tuned directorial debut.
One of the best rom-coms since When Harry Met Sally, which is quite an achievement when you consider it's directed by the star of Fight Club. It's predictable, yes, but when you've got strong performances and such a witty script, who cares?