RELIGULOUS (Dir. Larry Charles, 2008)
A while ago I had an extremely non-religious friend who announced one day that they were going to church the next Sunday. I asked “Why? Are you planning on heckling Jesus?”
That’s what comedian/agitating TV talk show host Bill Maher set out to do as he went out globe-trotting with BORAT director Larry Charles with eyes set on sarcastically deflating followers of all faiths.
Well, not all faiths but he goes from Jeruselum to a Trucker’s Chapel in Raleigh, N.C. (actually its mis-identified - the chapel is in Charlotte, N.C.) the to the Vatican (he gets thrown out almost immediately) to Salt Lake City to...you get the idea. Maher taunts all of his targets with how the tales of “Adam and Eve, 5,000 years ago with a talking snake” are so mind bogglingly ridiculous (get the title? Might as well be “Religion - Bad!”) that it is destroying us as a society to believe them at all.
I once wrote that Michael Moore wasn’t really a true documentarian but more “a comedian who hi-jacked the documentary format in order to stage his routines” and that goes double for Maher (but then he is an actual comedian so there's that.
He gives us his own religious background via old family photos and grainy stand-up clips and spends a lot of the film talking directly to the camera. None of the people he speaks to knew it was him that was going to do the interviews and more than once there are protests to the effect of “I don't know what kind of documentary you’re making but...”
A bit with a man dressed as Jesus at a Florida theme park (pictured above) actually provides some spiritual food for thought as amusingly the guy is never thrown by Maher’s quizing. George Carlin’s “can God make a rock so big even he can't lift it?” constantly came to mind while watching this movie (it may have even been quoted - I can’t remember), and that is undeniably fitting because Maher is a definite disciple of Carlin.
Unfortunately a lot of this falls flat as Maher’s smug nature sabotages some of his strategy.
An interview with ExChange Ministries director John Westcott, who considers himself an ex-homosexual, seems to exist just so Maher can be all “C'mon! You’re gay!” Cheap shots, contradicting subtitles, and an overusage of footage from cheesy TV shows (not sure what point the excerpt from the 1985 Robert Blake show Hell Town was making) and Biblical themed movies all mar (had to go there) the ultimate thesis.
Still, there are a lot of laughs throughout and the most lasting impressions are ones that will inspire much discussion and debate for years to come. In taking on theology Maher had his heart and mind in the right place it’s just too bad his funny bone got in the way.