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A RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE AT ITS LEAST INSPIRING.

Byline: Bob Strauss Film Critic

Neale Donald Walsch's hugely popular ``Conversations With God'' books grew, like many a spiritual awakening, out of terrible setbacks in the author's life.

This drab and pokey movie about the awful years that led up to Walsch's talks with the Big Guy may not be much of a film. But when it finally gets around to Neale hearing that very special voice in his head, it gives a good indication why he's built a big following.

Not only does the divine message combine the happiest parts of self-improvement philosophy with Hinduish detachment, universalism and love-beats-fear teachings, but the God who talks to Walsch seems pretty easygoing, and you've gotta love that.

Plus, the author comes off as a self-effacing doesn't-know-it-all, even if he can pull off semi-miraculous feats of empathic speculation when confronted by angry doubters.

That's how Henry Czerny plays Walsch in the movie, anyway. And while it isn't the most riveting performance, it's professional enough to lead us through the slog of monotonous misery that takes up too much time.

Most of the film is a long flashback to Walsch's hard times in the early 1990s. After his neck was broken in a car accident, the former journalist, radio personality and jack of several other trades couldn't find work, got evicted from his apartment and wound up living at a homeless campground near a small Oregon city. For about an hour, we watch him collect recyclables, eat out of Dumpsters and get rained on a lot -- all at a very deliberate, OK-we-get-it pace.

This woe-is-me stuff is intercut with snippets of the later, successful Henry giving lectures, making chat-show appearances and encountering grateful fans. If Czerny didn't bring such honest humility to the role, the unenlightened among us might have a certain, nauseated reaction to all the self-congratulation. There are hints that Walsch has a history of failed relationships and could be something of a lech, but Eric DelaBarre's screenplay doesn't go into the kind of detail on this interesting man's life that would make for a satisfying character study.

The director, Stephen Simon, is primarily a producer of spiritually, or. more accurately, mystically themed films such as ``What Dreams May Come'' and ``Somewhere in Time.'' ``Conversations'' is much more down-to-earth than those, and about as straightforward as a movie about a man who talks to God can be. But it's earthbound as well, with uninspired visuals, dialogue and a heart-note-plucking string score. Guess it's comforting to believe that God might make contact in even the blandest of conditions. But I can't see this movie meaning much to any but the already converted.

Bob Strauss, (818) 713-3670

bob.strauss@dailynews.com

CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD - Two stars

(PG: language, substance abuse)

Starring: Henry Czerny, Vilma Silva, Bruce Page, Ingrid Boulting.

Director: Stephen Simon.

Running time: 1 hr. 49 min.

Playing: One Colorado, Pasadena; Beverly Center 13, Beverly Hills; Westside Pavilion, West L.A.; Century 10, Ventura.

In a nutshell: Dramatization of how Neale Donald Walsch came to write his inspirational best seller is pretty dreary. Some nice, nonsectarian spiritual messages eventually do poke through the dullness.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 27, 2006
Words:522
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