As a Director, Mark Ruffalo Is No Mark Ruffalo

04/27/2011 4:00 AM |

Sympathy for Delicious
Directed by Mark Ruffalo

A cautionary tale against mixing church and rock n’ roll, Mark Ruffalo’s directorial debut, Sympathy for Delicious, concerns paraplegic DJ Delicious Dean (Christopher Thornton, who also wrote the screenplay and has a broken back in real life), gifted not just in his legendary scratching skills but in his divine healing abilities—a single touch can cure anything from gout to blindness. With hands like those, who needs legs? Still, pity the poor, angst-ridden Dean: he’s in a wheelchair, but mean club owners don’t sympathize; he’s living out of his car, but people steal his shit. And his curative touch, which he doesn’t even want, comes with a cruel cosmic catch: he cannot heal himself.

Sympathy was written by an actor, and directed by another, though practitioners of that craft are not typically known for their storytelling skills. (Or, apparently, for the ability to rent a tripod.) Delicious rejects his religious calling, encouraged by an earnest priest (Ruffalo, with a goofy-grin charm), and instead takes his healing show on the rock n’ roll road, inviting his skid-row followers along like Sky Masterson taking the gamblers into Sister Sarah’s Save-a-Soul mission; director Ruffalo’s depiction of the ensuing rock n’ roll debauchery is totally tone-deaf, with musicians (including a good-humored Juliette Lewis and unbearably hammy Orlando Bloom) whose English accents, black clothes, black make-up and operatic depravity seem to spring from the gothic imagination of Jeffrey MacDonald, or a flashback to Charley Pace’s Driveshaft days.

Of course, drug abuse and Christianity just don’t mix, and this “New Church” falls apart in the wake of tragedy. The filmmakers posit Delicious’s story as one of the ultimate sellout, trying to profit from a God-given talent while neglecting a more genuine responsibility to the vocation (in this case, healing the indigent and the infirm). Just look at the way Delicious ends up acting all phony, all Zack post-Zack Attack, until he learns a valuable lesson about doing something selfless and generous, and not behaving like a petulant teenager all the time. (Early on, he tells a music executive, “take your suit-ears off.”) Unfortunately, the filmmakers’ smug portrayal of the sick and feeble as so desperately in need of his help, as just one miracle away from a fulfilling life, borders on the insulting. In so many ways, Sympathy for Delicious proves the rule: great actors like Ruffalo should stick to acting.

Opens April 29