- Rated R
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All photos © Lionsgate
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ust when you thought Bill Maher couldn’t get any more politically incorrect, he goes and makes a movie like “Religulous.” Despite the controversy it’s sparked, however, the documentary isn’t as un-PC as many are making it out to be. Sure, Maher skewers much of the free world on the utter ridiculousness of religion (hence the title, which is a play on the two words), but he never once suggests that God doesn’t exist. He might allude to it several times, but “Religulous” isn’t about denying God's existence – it's about getting the 16% minority of non-believers that Maher has aimed the film at to stand up and make their voices heard. As a subscriber of the "I don't know" theory, Maher is clearly playing it safe, but that doesn't make "Religulous" any less funny, because the comedy speaks for itself.
Directed by “Borat” helmer Larry Charles and structured in the same way, “Religulous” follows Bill Maher as he travels across America and the rest of the world interviewing people about their religious faith. No stone is left unturned as the political humorist grills everyone from wealthy ministers in $2000 suits to a senior Vatican priest who comically points out that in Italy, Jesus Christ is sixth on the list of saints people pray to. But while Maher’s discussions with the religious elite make for good material, it’s his more candid encounters with everyday people that makes religion not only seem ridiculous, but contradictory. No one seems to know the real story, except for Maher, who isn't afraid to point out the discrepancies amongst the many texts, or that stories like Jonah and the Whale are no different from fairy tales like Jack and the Beanstalk. One such interviewee, an ex-Jew for Jesus, makes Maher’s point for him when he claims that Santa Claus’ magical powers are absurd, but the ability for Jesus Christ to perform miracles isn’t.
The rest of the film follows a similar pattern, with Maher not so much tricking his subjects into saying idiotic things as to just being there when it happens. Only one interviewee truly puts up a good fight, and oddly enough, it’s Jesus himself – or rather, the guy who plays him at the Florida-based Christian theme park, The Holy Land Experience. When questioned about why someone as all-powerful as God needs three forms (the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost), Jesus shoots back with an incredible analogy stating that water, too, has three forms. It’s the only moment in the film where Maher is left speechless – that is, unless, you count his interview with an extremely rude rabbi who is so unwilling to admit certain facts (even when Maher has proof) that the comedian just gets up and walks away.
Christianity isn’t the only religion on trial here, but it’s certainly the least ridiculous of the bunch. Short segments about Mormonism and Scientology (cue Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”) don’t really help to further Maher’s argument, while the film’s final act – which deals almost exclusively with Muslims – spends too much time on the political angle to accomplish anything. I get that the two are directly affected by the other, but when none of Maher’s subjects is willing to give him a straight answer, it seems almost futile to continue trying. Despite these minor road bumps in Maher’s journey, however, “Religulous” still accomplishes what it sets out to do: lampoon religion for the farce that he believes it is while conveying a far more important message about worldwide unity. Of course, the fact that a movie like this has finally been made proves that there might be a God just yet – and his name is Bill Maher.