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Case Number 04840: Small Claims Court

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Wholly Moses!

Sony // 1980 // 104 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // July 23rd, 2004

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All Rise...

And the Lord spake unto Judge Patrick Naugle, saying, Thou shalt review this Dudley Moore DVD, and thou shalt find that it sucks!

The Charge

The story of Herschel.
He wanted to be Moses…but he didn't have the right connections.

The Case

Meet Herschel (Dudley Moore, Miki & Maude), one of the most famous men you've never heard of. Back in the days of Biblical yore, there was one man who led the Pharaoh's people to freedom and brought the word of God down from the mountain on two stone tablets…and it wasn't Herschel. No, it was Moses. But poor old Herschel, under the misguided assumption God has spoken to him, decides that he is to do the Lord's work. Unfortunately, whenever he attempts to prove himself he falls flat on his face (because when the Lord's busy with Moses, he ain't got time to turn your puny staff into a snake). His father and servant, Hyssop (James Coco, Murder by Death), endlessly supports Herschel while the Pharaoh (Richard Pryor) and the rest of Egypt mercilessly ridicule him. When Herschel finally does come face to face with the Almighty, it's a meeting of both epic and comic proportions…

I guess now is as good a time as any for Columbia to release the Dudley Moore comedy Wholly Moses!, what with The Passion of the Christ a huge hit and Paramount's announcement to remake their classic The Ten Commandments. However, don't go looking for any deep theological issues to be resolved in Wholly Moses!—the film is strictly played for laughs. Some of the work, some of them don't, but hey…at least it'll be less offensive to most than Kevin Smith's Dogma.

I enjoyed Wholly Moses! and its skewered take on religion (to a point), even if the comedy often feels like it's two notches short of where it ought to be. Many of the gags in the film revolve around Herschel's misunderstanding that God was not talking to him but to Moses. One scene—a parody of the classic Ten Commandments where Moses (played by Charlton Heston) talks to God through a burning bush—provide a few chuckles as Herschel stands in the foreground, astounded that God is talking to him, while the real conversation with Moses concludes in the background. This is one of the rare moments when the film rises to a level it should have stayed at, but alas does not.

The film relies heavily on then-famous faces to walk on-screen and off again to no grand effect. Richard Pryor, Dom DeLuise, John Houseman, Madeline Kahn, and John Ritter all have cameos, but little else (the late John Ritter fares the best as the Devil, waiting on a group of sinful souls to burn up so he can march them into their new scorching destination). Moore—a genuinely funny actor when he had the right script—wanders through the desert with his father (a better-than-average James Coco) and exchanges glances with an anorexic looking Larraine Newman. And that's the movie in a nutshell.

Biblically based comedy can be entertaining if it's done right. The above mentioned Dogma (which this reviewer finds hysterical) and Monty Python's Life of Brian are both creative, clever (if not accurate) takes on the idea of the Christian religion. Wholly Moses! has its moments, but not enough to bring it up to a level worth recommending.

Wholly Moses! is presented in 1.33:1 full frame. Columbia's presentation of Wholly Moses! is an abomination to DVD purists everywhere. At the beginning of the film the credits are presented in what appear to be 2.35:1 widescreen, reminding us how cropped the picture is about to become. The image is often grainy and muddled, lacking any true crispness. Overall, this is a very shoddy presentation of the film with only mediocre black levels and dull colors. It's a shame that Columbia does great work 85% of the time, and the other 15% seem to be cruddy transfers like this one.

The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono in English. Much like the video presentation, this audio mix isn't worth singing praises over. The track is front heavy, lacking in fidelity and dynamic range. The dialogue, music, and effects are well heard with a slight amount of distortion in the track. Also included on this disc are Spanish subtitles.

The only extra feature available on this disc is a single theatrical trailer. Sinners!

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 77

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• Spanish
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• Comedy

Distinguishing Marks

• Theatrical Trailer


• IMDb

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