Perhaps the darkest of the darker-ish Steve Martin comedies, Leap of Faith features the wild and crazy guy as Jonas Nightengale, a charming charlatan who tours the U.S. preaching and selling miracles with his band of pseudo-religious misfit carnies, including his long-suffering friend and manager (Debra Winger). One of their trucks breaks down in Rustwater, Kansas, a small town in desperate need of a good hearty rain to revive the crops — and one ripe for a con. Things don’t go quite as planned, though, as the local sheriff (Liam Neeson) makes it his mission to make sure the townsfolk don’t fall for these hucksters, and a local disabled boy who really believes makes Jonas re-examine his shady ways. Michael Keaton was originally cast in the lead role, and his intense, quirky energy probably would’ve made for a stronger film, but Martin actually does some really good work here, bringing a sinister edge to his God-fearing P.T. Barnum character and managing to make his eventual moral turnaround both compelling and convincing. If anything, Leap of Faith suffers from having a bit too much spit and polish — the film’s carnival setting could’ve benefited from a bit more dirt and grime, which would’ve made us feel more like we were sitting around a campfire and not wandering around a movie set.
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