Film Review: Sympathy for Delicious

Messy, far-fetched rock drama with religious vibes, about a former DJ on L.A.’s skid row who emerges a healer, will go straight to the cut-out bin.

Decades ago on a late-night talk show, a celebrity pundit suggested that actors are among the worst judges of material. The enormously talented, Oscar-nominated actor Mark Ruffalo lives up to that notion with his directorial debut, Sympathy for Delicious. Ruffalo was no doubt helping pals with this effort, but he does no favors to audiences.

Screenwriter and real-life paraplegic Christopher Thornton plays Dean O’Dwyer, known as Delicious D, who was an up-and-coming DJ on the underground punk-music scene in Los Angeles before a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed. Abandoned to a wheelchair and now bitter, homeless and living in his car, he is in a state of desperation on skid row, where he has befriended do-good Father Joe (Mark Ruffalo), who tends to these poor denizens and has extended help to other unfortunates in Brazil’s favelas and in Africa.

When Delicious encounters a fiery, seemingly bogus faith healer at a revival due to Father Joe’s encouragement, he learns he has a gift to heal. The priest sets him loose on skid row where the DJ works his magic, although, inexplicably, he and fellow wheelchair-bound friend Rene (Noah Emmerich) are immune to his powers. But preceded by his expert table-turning/scratching reputation, the DJ healer, wheelchair and all, wins a gig with a grubby punk band headed by manic front man The Stain (Orlando Bloom), propelled by loudmouth, pill-head bassist Ariel (Juliette Lewis) and managed by the silky Nina Hogue (Laura Linney).

Eventually learning of his healing gift, the band makes Delicious and his powers the main attraction. The group becomes a media sensation and healer Delicious a full-blown celebrity. But tragedy ensues when a band member splits for the heavens and Delicious and Father Joe, both wheeler-dealers, get caught up in the unfortunate turn of events. Ultimately, Delicious is just left to wander in the desert as audiences are left to wonder what this film is about.

Perhaps this confounding story might have worked better as a scrambled, drug-fueled parable of the later life of Christ, but script and tone would have required a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on. The film’s pummeling music performances numb the listener, and the skid-row and club settings, though appropriate to the story, are relentlessly grim. Worse, performances are way off: Ruffalo is too understated as the priest, Bloom and Lewis are over the top, and Thornton is not a wit credible. Linney, more at home with less funky characters, at least gets to suggest her punk-rock manager’s smooth edges by way of a fleeting reference to the fancy college she attended.