By: Robert Goodman
“Join me in the final battle between intelligence and stupidity that will decide the future of humanity. Coming soon to a house of false idols near you.” –Bill Maher
Bill Maher has some big balls in Religulous, and they’re pushed right up in your face, as he does anything and everything to attack almost any form of religious belief. Hosted and produced by Maher and directed by Borat‘s Larry Charles, Religulous is a documentary with hints of Borat in that (mostly) vulnerable targets are set up for ridicule — only Maher doesn’t get nearly as many laughs as his “Khazak” compatriot.
The biggest target is Christianity. Maher starts in the holyland and stands on the supposed spot where the final apocalyptic battle of Armageddon will be waged. He doesn’t think so. Then off to America’s heartland, including a religious theme park in Florida where he relentlessly goads the performer playing Christ; an interview with a former-gay, now born-again preacher; and a particularly mean-spirited visit to a pathetic-looking trailer-truck mini-church for truckers, one of whom tries to explain to a smirking, ridiculing Maher how his faith got him off drugs. We also see a lot of shots of people talking in tongues.
Maher visits the Vatican, isn’t allowed in, but “finds” an old rebel priest outside who agrees with some of his views against the church. Maher goes after Jews and Muslims equally, although perhaps to avoid a Salman Rushdie-like fatwa, he manages to make Islam look stupid through selective editing rather than by criticizing their prophet.
Maher’s method is to find subjects who agree with him to make his points, or pretend to be friendly to “believers” and then start tearing away at their statements, all with his characteristic smile. Mormons are savaged, particularly with old film clips that are intercut with ex-Mormons unloading on their former church. It seems Maher couldn’t find a real Scientologist to talk to — maybe they’ve become savvy to “reporters” with sneaky intentions — so Maher pretends to be a Scientologist “preaching” in London’s Hyde park.
In spite of snappy music (like “Sympathy for the Devil”) and some good laughs here and there, the film already seems long at 101 minutes — its apocalyptic ending changing tone to dead serious, with A-bombs and buildings exploding behind Maher as he lectures us that religious belief is the root cause of all wars and conflicts.
Maybe Bill Maher doesn’t know that Hitler and Stalin were atheists.
Religulous opens October 3rd.