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Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Make no mistake, Bill Maher's Religulous is not really a documentary. A documentary is supposed to show us some aspect of real life. Rather, this is a stand-up routine with great scenery. Maher travels the world, showing us various sects, some major, some fringe, and pokes fun at faith. He interviews member of Jews for Jesus, Mormons, Catholics, Evangelicals, Muslims, Satanists, and Hasidic Jews. He even throws in a piece about Scientology. But most of the people Maher interviews are not the sharpest tools in the shed; one gets the feeling that he picked them for his film just to be certain he could make them look stupid. One wonders what would have happened if he had sat down with a learned theologian like Mona West or Peter Gomes.

Maher has some great moments, such as his manic Scientology preaching in Hyde Park, London, or his attempt to "meet the Pope." Although Religulous is directed by Larry Charles of Borat fame, Maher is hardly Sacha Baron Cohen when it comes to his on screen pranks and antics. He is more like a bemused Devil's Advocate, questioning his interviewees faith in his smart-ass way. His interviewing techniques alienate some but completely expose others; he gets a snazzy but crooked television preacher to spout off about how "Jesus dressed very well." He gets Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor to accept the premise that religion is a remnant of the Bronze Age, to which Pryor defends his evangelical faith by replying "Well, you don't have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate." It is painful in parts to watch, such as when Maher interviews a "recovered gay man," who insists on hugging Maher, to which Maher replies "you don't have a hard on right now, do you?"

In the end, Maher's smart-assery leaves a bit of a bad taste in your mouth. If you already agree with Maher, you will undoubtedly laugh or cringe accordingly and leave feeling validated. If you don't already agree with Maher, you will probably not question your world view after seeing this film. It's a shame, really, because Maher makes some great points about the detriments of religion on our modern world. When he looks us in the eye and espouses the Freudian sentiment "Grow up or die," it's hard not to feel like he's just preaching to the choir.


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