Mr. Movie

Religulous doesn't have much of a prayer

Bill Maher doesn’t like religion. He finds it to be a deterrent to the progress of humanity.

It’s easy to understand why. Religion doesn’t exactly have a great historical track record. From Christianity to Islam to Hinduism and Buddhism, limited human beings claim to interpret the will of God and it’s sometimes hard to see much deity in results of their actions.

Maher points a heavy finger at those flaws. Christianity is the main target of his expose. He is troubled by a preacher wearing enough gold to fill Fort Knox. The same preacher is asked if Jesus approves of very expensive suits and shoes.

Good question.

Does the Christian God hate homosexuals? Was Jesus anti-gay? What about speaking in tongues? Did the people who wrote the New Testament know Jesus?

Maher doesn’t think they did. He also ponders original sin, a snake in the Garden of Eden that talks, was it really an apple?

Interviews on his very good questions are interspersed with what is supposed to be comic anti-religious commentary.

Maher also takes a hearty swing at Islam and debates the notion that it is a peaceful religion with an Islamic rapper, a cleric and a young woman in the middle of a street. Scientology, Satanism, Mormons, Hasidic Jews get skewed, too.

His intelligent questions deserve intelligent answers. That’s where the cracks appear in the charismatic comedian’s self-cathartic rant. You very quickly learn that Maher doesn’t really want answers. He loves the sound of his own voice and the intellect and seeming intelligence behind his own theories. Nowhere in this movie does he really attempt to get answers.

Does Maher ask the world’s top theologians and philosophers for answers? No. Does he seek out great minds that will offer stimulating debate and thought-provoking opinion? No. Maher finds truck drivers who worship in what used to be a long-haul trailer. He tackles an actor playing the soon-to-be-crucified Savior in a musical at a Jesus theme park. Maher talks to a guy who claims many miracles led him to Christ but who, when pushed, can only name one of them.

Maher’s one-sided attack on religion is like a boxer Mike Tyson in his prime challenging a three-year old to a no-holds barred brawl in a cage. To make it fair Tyson agrees to—wink, wink-tie one hand behind his back and close an eye.

As a last slap in the face for his poor stooge victims, Maher appears to cut and edit events and statements out of sequence to make his subjects look as stupid as possible. Not that most of them need the help. Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas walked face-first into a Maher salvo and made a statement about not needing to pass an IQ test to be a member of the U.S. Senate.

The bait and switch editing in that segment is the most blatant. Pryor’s double take after the statement also produces the film’s best comic moment.

I am prepared for the cries of outrage. My “Christian moral values” and preconceived opinions are getting in the way of a fair review of this man’s work. Nonsense. Maher’s beliefs are not bothersome. The questions he asks should be asked.

It is the lack of fair play and cheap shots that bothers me. But that’s Maher’s standard modus operandi. In fact, Mr. Maher, if you ever want a serious discussion of your questions and real answers I’d be glad to assist.

Mr. Movie rating: 3 1/2 stars

Rated R for mature themes, brief nudity, drug use. It is not playing in the Tri-Cities. You can find it in Spokane, Seattle or Portland.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself