Movie Review: Relidicule (Sous-titrés français)
By Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
"The other guys are selling certainty, not me." So says Bill Maher in "Religulous," one man's screedy dissection of organized religion, its fundamentalist excesses and what Maher sees as the planet-threatening evils fomented in the name of righteousness.
It's a fairly entertaining bash, with a travelogue vibe established by director Larry Charles ("Borat"). It's also smug as all hell. No surprise there, given Maher's well-honed argumentative persona on his "Real Time" HBO series. Yet even if you share Maher's skepticism on his subject, you may wish he'd set up his straight men and straight women in a way that doesn't merely score the cheapest possible laughs, or return, again and again, to Maher's eye-rolling over literalist interpretations of the Bible (Adam and Eve, talking snake, Jonah and the whale, et al.).
The movie begins and ends in Megiddo, Israel, Ground Zero for the battle of the end times, according to Revelations. Maher, who grew up Catholic with a Catholic father and a Jewish mother (Judaism wasn't discussed, he says, until his father broke from the church over the birth-control issue), goes after a variety of fervent believers of various religions, from Muslims to Christians to Jews to ex-Jews to Mormons to ex-Mormons. He visits a truckers' chapel in North Carolina, disingenuously muttering, "I'm just asking questions" when one of the long-haul drivers walks off the interview, offended. He moves on to attractions Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat might've enjoyed, including the Creation Museum of Petersburg, Ky., or the Christian theme park known as Holy Land Experience in Orlando, where Maher spars with the actor playing Jesus in an outdoor "Passion" play.
This is squirm humor, wrapped in a dire polemic. No less than the evangelical Christian extremists and Islamic jihadists who come under attack in "Religulous," Maher foments an apocalyptic vision of the planet's future. "Religion must die in order for mankind to live," he concludes, flatly.
The Catholics get off easiest in "Religulous," thanks to the inclusion of a couple of refreshing ringers: Father Reginald Foster, a senior Vatican scholar and certified loose cannon; and a Vatican astronomer who calmly makes hash of the creationists who put humankind and dinosaurs on the planet at the same time. (Sarah Palin might do well to take a meeting with the man.) America's staggering percentage of evolution non-believers aside, this is a fine time for a film such as "Religulous," which is peppered with sound bites from, among others, John McCain, supporting what he characterizes as the American constitutional framework for "a Christian nation." About half of the movie works in its snide, hit-and-run way. The other half throws more and more darts at the same balloon, long after it pops.
MPAA rating: R (for some language and sexual material).
Running time: 1:41
Starring: Bill Maher
Directed by Larry Charles; photographed by Anthony Hardwick; edited by Jeff Groth, Christian Kinnard and Jeffrey M. Werner; produced by Jonah Smith, Palmer West and Bill Maher. A Lionsgate release.