Discovering spirituality provided a lucrative second career for Mitch Albom, the sportswriter whose books “Tuesdays with Morrie” and “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” became successful ABC TV movies. So it’s appropriate the Hallmark Hall of Fame would inaugurate its new relationship with the network — after 16 years at CBS — with “Mitch Albom’s Have a Little Faith,” which chronicles the author’s life lessons gleaned from an aging rabbi and a redeemed pastor. There’s undoubtedly an audience for Albom’s brand of gooey goodness, but even with the pic’s high-profile casting, it sure as hell isn’t me.
Adapted by Albom and directed by Jon Avnet, “Faith” centers on the relationship between the journalist — a non-observant Jew, played by Bradley Whitford — and two ebullient men of God: Albert Lewis (Martin Landau), Mitch’s old rabbi; and Henry Covington (Laurence Fishburne), who gave himself to Jesus after the hardest of hard-luck youths, which led him to drug addiction and crime.
Apparently, in addition to those Tuesdays with Morrie, Albom also found time to spend Saturdays with Albert and Sundays with Henry.
The colorful Albert, already 82, seeks Mitch out with a strange request: Deliver my eulogy. The renewed ties between the two men offer Albert lots of time to dispense wisdom as well as borscht-belt jokes, and Landau a chance to unabashedly nosh on the scenery, singing “Hello, Mitchell” to the tune of “Hello, Dolly” every time he sees him.
A parallel story focuses on Henry, with Albom as narrator walking us through his grim past, before Mitch’s charitable works bring him into contact with the modern-day version. Henry now presides over a dilapidated church with a big hole in the roof, and if you can’t tell where that’s heading, you’re probably not going to buy many Hallmark cards for Christmas anyway.
Introduced as “a story about believing in something,” “Have a Little Faith” follows Albom’s pattern of wizened oracles doling out reassuring platitudes. Despite a solid performance by Whitford that peaks with Albert’s inevitable eulogy, this is clearly the shallow end of the Hallmark gene pool — perhaps more inherently commercial than some recent titles, but more saccharine as well.
Not that you can really blame Albom for continuing to mine what has worked, having found a sweet spot in the belief that something larger binds us (much like Oprah Winfrey, who not incidentally produced “Morrie”) without having to give it a name or, in the big supermarket of religions, take sides.
“I call Jesus the greatest recycler I know,” Henry thunders from the pulpit at one point.
In the context of this movie, actually, maybe the second greatest.