Mark Ruffalo only gave himself a small part in his directorial debut, but his absence behind the camera is more keenly felt. There’s an intriguing core to Christopher Thornton’s script, but it’s surrounded by bad ideas that a more discerning director might have banged into manageable shape. Thornton stars as Delicious D, a once-promising DJ (or, as he prefers, “turntablist”) whose career was derailed by his partial paralysis. (Thornton himself was paralyzed in a rock-climbing accident at age 25.) Now he sleeps in his car and takes his meals at a mission run by a well-meaning priest (Ruffalo). Thornton lets born-again paraplegic Noah Emmerich drag him to a holy roller’s faith-healing show, but there’s no room in Thornton’s life for faith. Even when he discovers he has a bona fide gift for curing the afflicted, he maintains his skepticism. His gift, as he sees it, has to do with scratching vinyl, not laying on hands.
Through bassist Juliette Lewis, Thornton hooks up with a band fronted by swell-headed Brit Orlando Bloom, who seems to have picked his accent by scouring John Lennon’s scenes in A Hard Day’s Night. Bloom’s performance is all over the map, but for once, the vagueness isn’t his fault; the script’s conception of his character doesn’t go beyond a handful of stock characteristics topped with a bad wig. A surly character himself, Thornton is bounced in and out of the band, but once scheming manager Laura Linney realizes his special powers will draw big crowds, he becomes the main attraction at what’s unfortunately dubbed Heal-a-palooza.
There’s a vague streak running all the way through Sympathy For Delicious. Whether Thornton is on a soup line or in a dressing room backstage, the viewers are never there with him, let alone feeling the pull between two disparate worlds. The character’s miraculous gift never plays as more than a melodramatic contrivance—it’s a gimmick, not an outgrowth of faith. The movie reaches for the heart, but only comes back with a balloon filled with fake blood and chicken livers.