- The Washington Times - Friday, October 3, 2008

“Religulous,” the new anti-religion documentary from Bill Maher and Larry Charles, is a deeply frustrating film. Instead of confronting real problems radiating from the world’s major religions - radicalism in all of its forms - Mr. Maher and Mr. Charles opt for “Borat” redux, making fun of silly little yokels too stupid to realize they shouldn’t appear on camera with a man like Mr. Maher.

It’s all too easy to find true believers and set them up with difficult questions that make them look like nitwits to an audience full of secular progressives. Look at the Jesus theme park! Look at the creationists who say man coexisted with dinosaurs! Can you believe Mormons think their underwear is bulletproof? Aren’t these dopes silly?

This is hardly enlightening (although it is sometimes humorous in that picking-on-the-defenseless way we all loved so much in elementary school). What’s frustrating about “Religulous” is the abrupt tonal shift in the final five minutes or so; Mr. Maher trades in his comedian hat for the tricorn of a fire-and-brimstone secularist preacher.

The end of the world is coming - be it through nuclear war or environmental collapse - because of the idiots who choose to worship an invisible deity, Mr. Maher warns. He doesn’t seem to be joking: He really thinks this film should act as a wake-up call for the nonbelievers out there unhappy with the way the world is going.

I’m unconvinced. It’s fair to say that I’m a member of “Religulous’” target audience, an agnostic who takes issue with most forms of religious extremism. Nevertheless, by mocking American Christians for more than an hour while treating radical Islamists with kid gloves for about 15 minutes, Mr. Maher seems to have his priorities all wrong.

I guess I understand why Mr. Maher and Mr. Charles choose to focus on the people they do; there’s little risk in mocking a Southern senator who thinks the Ten Commandments should form the bedrock of modern lawmaking and muffs a word or two during an interview. Indeed, the makers of such a film probably win plaudits from their peers for their “bravery,” for “speaking truth to power.”

Take an Islamic cleric to task for the absurdities of his faith, on the other hand, and your head could wind up on a plate.

Who would you rather go after?

If Mr. Maher really thinks religion is the root of our world’s trouble, he would be well-served to focus more on the troublemakers - the psychos who shoot up abortion clinics; the suicide bombers plaguing the Middle East; the radical clerics preaching hate around the world - than harmless cranks in the Deep South. All he does with his mean-spirited hectoring is turn off those who otherwise might support him.


TITLE: “Religulous”

RATING: R (Some language and sexual material)

CREDITS: Directed by Larry Charles

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes

WEB SITE: http://lionsgate.com/religulous/


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