Sunday, April 19, 2015


 2 / 5 

Walter initially presents itself as the story of a young man whose job is to decide whether people are going to heaven or to hell.

It's the basis, I suppose, for a good movie, but Walter forgets about that concept more or less immediately, and instead offers up the sort of quirky, character-driven comedy that independent films do best and, truth be told, worst.

Walter knows it can't sustain such a slim story unless it dives head first into some serious religious territory.  Its title character believes himself to be the son of God, but knows full well that another guy claimed that title long ago.  So, he carries his conviction lightly and quietly.  As played by Andrew J. West, Walter doesn't claim to have any divine insight beyond a God-given ability to determine, just by looking at you, whether you're going up to the Pearly Gates or down to the land of fire and brimstone once you shuffle off this mortal coil.

He got this ability, the movie shows us, when his father died.  He also got saddled with a mother (Virginia Madsen) who has never been right since her husband's death.  She and Walter are all each other has got, except for Walter's job as a ticket-taker at a local megaplex.  The cinema is staffed with the kind of sweet-natured, middle-class suburbanites who in real life would never, ever deign to take a job as a concessionaire or usher at a movie theater that pays eight bucks an hour.

Walter goes to his job every day and believes in his destiny until one night when he sees the ghost of a man (Justin Kirk) whose spirit is trapped between here and there, stuck in a limbo from which only Walter can help him escape by telling him which way he is supposed to go.

By this point, Walter has just enough faux-eccentric charm to keep things interesting, but then it begins veering wildly off course, delving into the private life of the pretty concession-counter girl, introducing a ludicrously inappropriate psychologist (William H. Macy) and losing sight of its central concept.  Walter, it turns out, isn't really the son of God -- he might not even be all that religious, despite his nightly prayer time.  He's just emotionally damaged, and Walter wants us to see how "everyone is broken," as one of the characters puts it.

Though it runs less than 90 minutes, Walter has a tough time sustaining interest for even that brief duration.  As it meanders through plot point after plot point, it loses more and more focus as it tries to show us what happened to Walter to trigger his delusions.

Still, it all leads Walter (and Walter) to a moving moment of catharsis, one that surprises with its intensity and effectiveness -- it's just not necessarily worth all the effort it took to get there.

Walter has its charms, which might make it worthwhile Saturday-afternoon viewing some day, but with so many better films about similar subjects (The Fisher King comes to mind, as do Fight Club and K-PAX, and it's not necessarily a good thing for a film to be unfavorably compared to K-PAX) it's ultimately just too sweet, too safe and too confused for its own good.

Viewed April 13, 2015 -- DWA Theater


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