Judge Franck Tabouring smells something burning...
Heaven help us!
Love him or hate him, but Bill Maher is not afraid to speak his mind, and that's exactly why I admire him. In Larry Charles' latest documentary, Religulous, Maher embarks on a daring mission to question the beliefs of millions of people worldwide, arguing that religion is harmful to the progress of humanity. Yep, Maher takes all religions for a ride down comedy lane, and watching him do so is both hilarious and thoroughly entertaining.
Facts of the Case
The title of the movie alone indicates Maher is not out to offer his viewers an objective examination of world religions. On the contrary, Maher's intention in Religulous is to travel around the world preaching the gospel of doubt, pushing his argument that having no faith can be a luxury and that the world would be better off if people stopped believing in a talking snake, among many other things.
Maher doesn't blow any smoke and tells it just the way he sees it, which is one of the many reasons why this film works so well. He certainly doesn't travel around the world trying to convince people he's right. What it sets out to accomplish is this: Entertain his audience, while urging all non-religious people to voice their opinions. Additionally, Maher wants to spread doubt, by trying to convince people that no one can really know whether there is a God. In other words, he tries his best to challenge those who say they know for fact that what they believe is the absolute truth.
Sure, the deeply religious may be offended by what Maher has to say in Religulous, but that doesn't automatically make it an offensive movie. Maher doesn't point fingers at the religious and call them idiots. Not at all. Yes, he makes fun of religion, and yes, most of his questions have a sarcastic undertone, but he does that solely for the sake of comedy, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you don't like Bill Maher, just stay away from the movie. If you're curious about what he has to say, watch it and enjoy. It's that simple.
Anyway, the point of this review is not to defend the movie, but to let you know what I thought about it. As someone who is non-religious and quite open-minded about a lot of things, I absolutely adored Religulous. Most of the questions Maher poses and the comments he makes are hilarious, and to be honest, some of the answers and reactions he gets from people are even funnier. The look on Bill's face in reaction to some of the answers is reason alone to break out laughing.
Throughout the film, Maher interviews a horde of religious and non-religious people, including a religious scientist, a couple of very amusing televangelists, an ex-Jew for Jesus, a senior Vatican priest who almost pokes fun at religion as much as Maher does, and even an Arkansas senator who doesn't really know whether he should believe in evolution. Other wildly amusing segments include stops at a trucker's chapel in North Carolina, a Bible-themed amusement park in Florida, the Creation Museum in Kentucky, and even the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City.
Religulous does a fabulous job of highlighting all the absurdities religion can create, and watching Maher talk to all these people and travel all these places for 101 minutes turns out to be a light and entertaining experience stuffed with big laughs and some quite intelligent (as well as incredibly silly) discussions. Supporting Maher by directing the whole thing is Larry Charles, who has already proven a dab hand at creating documentary-style comedies with Borat. Together, they make a great team.
I recently had the chance to talk to Maher during a conference call. When I asked about his reaction to the film's $13 million domestic gross, he correctly pointed out that Religulous is currently the seventh highest grossing documentary in the U.S., and that it could have pulled a lot more visitors. Unfortunately, plenty of theater owners across the country must have been really scared of Maher's arguments, because many of them refused to screen the movie, causing quite a number of folks to drive long distances to see the film on the big screen. Banning a film because it makes fun of religion is ridiculous, but I guess that's how the world works.
Now that the film has arrived on DVD, everybody has the opportunity to see it. This standard edition boasts a solid 1.78:1 widescreen presentation, which carries an overall decent image quality. The audio transfer works just as well but, given the nature of this film, technical aspects don't really play a significant role.
Besides seven decent deleted scenes totaling 20 minutes, the bonus features also include eight of Maher's monologues from his world tour. Wrapping up the special features is a funny feature commentary, during which Maher and Charles talk about long days of shooting, different locations, the weather, the hotels, and the people they interviewed. It's not necessarily the most informative commentary, but it's still quite amusing.
Religulous is a deliciously funny documentary. It doesn't want to change anyone's opinion, but it will entertain those who perceive religion as something silly or even crazy. In a country in which so many films rolling out of Hollywood have a religious touch, it's great to finally see one that takes the opposite direction.
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