The combo of faith healing and showbiz occupies an indelible place in Los Angeles history, a dark vein of razzmatazz. For his first stint in the director's chair, actor Mark Ruffalo dives into that volatile mix with a contemporary vision set amid downtown's dispossessed, fringe dwellers and rock 'n' roll strivers.
Despite the powerful sense of place, "Sympathy for Delicious" unwinds a narrative thread that grows increasingly tattered and flimsy. Especially in light of Ruffalo's distinguished screen performances — including his role in this film — "Sympathy" plays out with a disappointing messiness.
Christopher Thornton, who wrote the problematic script, stars as Dean O'Dwyer, a.k.a. Delicious D, a DJ who's barely subsisting on skid row since an accident left him partly paralyzed. He discovers that he has the healing touch, and activist priest Father Joe (Ruffalo) enlists him to answer poor people's prayers. Biding his mercenary time, the frustrated rocker finds opportunity in the form of an on-the-cusp band, as long as he's willing to play the part of onstage freak-show healer.
If the refusal to satirize belief is one of the film's key strengths, its underground music component is an often tone-deaf caricature. As a key member of the dirge-metal band, the singular Juliette Lewis delivers a charismatic variation on her patented tough-spacey chick; Orlando Bloom and Laura Linney fare less well as, respectively, frontman in full swagger and devil-incarnate manager.
A long-in-the-works project for Ruffalo and Thornton, who became a paraplegic early in his acting career, the film tackles provocative questions about exploitation as it veers into ever more unconvincing territory on its forced march toward redemption.
— Sheri Linden
"Sympathy for Delicious." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.