'Walter': Palm Springs Review

A first-rate cast performs some minor miracles 

The whimsical supernatural comedy stars Andrew J. West and Justin Kirk

Sometimes it’s hard for a movie to overcome a dubious premise.  So it is with Walter, an offbeat comedy that had its world premiere in Palm Springs. An outstanding cast goes a long way toward helping the movie to leap past its outlandish gimmick, but it finally seems more strained than endearing. Commercial prospects seem shaky.

The movie begins with a heavy dose of voice-over narration, which is never a good sign. Walter (Andrew J. West) tells us that since his father died, he is convinced of his powers to consign the people he meets to their immortal destiny in heaven or hell. He works as a ticket-taker in a multiplex in Indianapolis, and all the people crossing his path get their assignment from him as he checks them off. But matters get complicated when he meets a ghost named Greg (Justin Kirk), who has been in limbo since he died and is desperate to get his ticket to heaven or hell from the supposedly omnipotent Walter.

Does that concept sound like one that will have you rushing to your own neighborhood multiplex? Probably not. Screenwriter Paul Shoulberg’s concept is cumbersome and wacky without being especially tantalizing. Besides that, the script has a serious case of the cutes, with a lot of lumbering attempts at whimsical humor. Gradually, however, the film grows more serious and engaging as we learn some of the psychological history behind Walter’s strange obsession. His father’s death clearly traumatized him, especially because of some of the revelations about his parents’ personal life that startled him at the time. The film ultimately turns out to be a thoughtful, even poignant study of grief. But it takes too long for the picture to transcend its arch comic elements and find a moving core of truth.

While it lurches toward a redeeming finale, the film does hold our interest because of the acting. West manages to bring considerable charm to his portrayal of this slightly deranged loner, and most of the supporting performances are equally strong. Kirk does a great job involving us in the agony of a ghost who finally reveals the true circumstances of his death. As Walter’s love interest, a concession girl at the theater, Leven Rambin exudes warmth and sensuality. Virginia Madsen as Walter’s mother is a bit shrill and one-dimensional at the start, but she has some affecting moments toward the conclusion. William H. Macy plays a psychiatrist who seems to be trying to imitate the folksy healer played by Judd Hirsch in Ordinary People, and he gives a hilarious performance.

First-time director Anna Mastro makes good use of the Indianapolis locations, and she proves adept in the more serious sections of the picture. And it’s a tribute to West’s abilities that he always has you rooting for him to transcend his demons as well as the script’s twee conceits.

Cast: Andrew J. West, Justin Kirk, Virginia Madsen, Leven Rambin, William H. Macy, Milo Ventimiglia, Neve Campbell, Peter Facinelli
Director: Anna Mastro
Screenwriter: Paul Shoulberg
Producers: Ryan Harris, Brenden Patrick Hill, Christine Holder, Mark Holder, Benito Mueller
Executive producers: Simon Graham-Clare, Tim Hill, William D. Johnson, Jennifer Laurent, Ricky Margolis, Michel Merkt, Wolfgang Mueller, Carl Rumbaugh, Rick St. George
Director of photography: Steve Calitri
Production designer: Michael Bricker
Costume designer: Lauren Schad
Music: Dan Romer
Editor: Kristin McCasey
Casting: J.C. Cantu

No rating, 86 minutes

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