Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Bill Maher is still politically incorrect. This time, having the audacity to question (gasp!) religion.
In these conservative times, with red states embracing that Ol’ Time Religion, it takes a pair of brass, uh, monkeys to take on God, Allah, Buddha, et al. in one acerbic documentary. Nary a world religion is safe from Maher, a self-declared atheist.
Maher’s documentary “Religulous” opens today at the Tropic Cinema. Viewers might want to wear asbestos underwear in case they are struck down by lightning as they exit the theater.
Yes, funnyman and political satirist Bill Maher skewers religions one by one like a Don Quixote seeking out pious dragons. Watchers of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” will not be surprised, for his show is rife with rants against organized religion – which he blames for everything from wars to warts.
With an Irish Catholic father and a Jewish mother, Maher can cast stones with a certain degree of accuracy. Although raised as a Catholic, he quickly got over it.
While attending Cornell University, he gave stand-up comedy a try. After becoming a regular at Catch a Rising Star in New York, he was invited to do his routine on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” That led to his own show – aptly called “Politically Incorrect” – on Comedy Central. This roundtable of political observations was so successful that ABC picked up the show in 1997. However, after making controversial remarks about America and 9/11, his show was abruptly cancelled “for low ratings.” Fortunately, HBO was waiting in the wings.
The title “Religulous” is supposedly a play on the word “ridiculous.” One evangelistic website referred to it as “The How Much Blasphemy Can We Place in One Movie, Movie.” Deeply offended True Believers call Maher’s message “The Gospel of Atheism.”
To counter, Maher describes “Religulous” as a “nonfiction film about the greatest fiction ever told.”
“It’s certainly a doubter’s view,” he clarifies.
Directed by Larry Charles (“Borat,” TV’s “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), the documentary’s working title was “A Spiritual Journey.” One rightwing wag suggested that the journey Mr. Maher should make is straight to hell.
“We went everywhere,” laughs Maher. “We went to everyplace where there’s religion. We went to Vatican City, we went to Jerusalem, and we went to Salt Lake City. You know I think we’ve insulted everybody.”
When my son helped film an educational video starring Bill Maher, he was taking on everybody on the set. He yelled at his assistant for not bringing him a fat-free muffin. He growled at the cameraman for getting a bad angle of his nose. He insulted the assistant director by referring to her as “babe.” He’s a take-no-prisoners kind of guy.
Some people are comparing “Religulous” to such Michael Moore documentaries as “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Sicko.” Although flattered, Maher coyly shrugs off the compliment. “I’d never compare myself to Michael Moore, ’cause first of all he’s a genius,” says the comedian. But when people see this documentary, he points out, “they laugh so hard because the topic of religion is just so inherently funny”
Perhaps a better comparison for Maher’s doc would be Ben Stein’s “Expelled,” a look at the exclusion of creationist thought in public schools. Seeing how Stein made a bundle promoting a religious viewpoint, Maher figured he might do just as well taking the opposite side: putting down religions.
If you go to the movie’s website, you’ll see Maher’s face burnt onto a piece of toast, just like one of those “miracle images” that bring big bucks on eBay. And appropriately enough, you’ll find a link to a website called Disbelief.com.
Larry Charles describes the movie this way: “We talk to clergy, extremists, scholars, politicians, ex-cons, the man on the street and even the man upstairs (that’s right, we interview God).”
How’s that for marquee value?
“I wanted to make a documentary, and I wanted it to be funny,” says Maher. “In fact, since there is nothing more ridiculous than the ancient mythological stories that live on as today’s religions, this movie would try to be a real knee slapper.”
He adds, “Unless, of course, you’re religious, then you might not like it.”
[from Solares Hill]