I would be remiss -- after panning Ben Stein's "intelligent design" documentary -- to ignore the same sins in a film I generally agree with.
Religulous -- Bill Maher's anti-religion docu-manifesto -- falls prey to some of the same "Michael Moore-ish" cliches as Stein's movie. It's disappointing given that Religulous is directed by Larry Charles (Borat), who perfected docu-punking and should know better.
But there's the old "show up without an appointment and get tossed by security" scene, which Stein pulled at the Smithsonian and Maher does at the Vatican.
They both use Planet Of The Apes footage to mock the people they disagree with on evolution.
That said: Two things. First, Bill Maher's movie is much funnier, which frankly isn't a surprise considering the Old Testament is riper for comedy than the Second Law Of Thermo-dynamics. Ask Bill Cosby.
Second, it's much braver. As much as he has played the martyr, Stein admits that no one has threatened his life for saying science is wrong. But there are moments in Religulous when Maher is in clear danger of violence (as when he tells a trucker-for-Jesus that there is no historical proof Jesus existed).
As for my opinion of what Stein would call the "atheist threat," let's just say I'm not that worried about atheist suicide bombers praising no one in their last seconds of life.
Maher racked up tremendous air miles in putting together his opus, which begins and ends (as supposedly will the world) in the Holy Land's "Valley of Armageddon." En route, he debates a young hijab-wearing woman near where Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was murdered, gives a maniacal Scientology sermon at Hyde Park Speaker's Corner in London and argues with Jesus himself (or the actor playing him) at the Holy Land Experience theme park in Orlando.
His beef against Judeo-Christian tradition is studiously researched, and seems to point to where Maher's animus really lies -- he does live in a country where no non-Christian, is likely to be elected President in his lifetime. He's done his homework with the "historical record of Christ" stuff, as well as the similarities of detail between Christ's story and that of other transcendants such as Krishna (also supposedly of virgin birth, he grew up to perform miracles such as walking on water and feeding multitudes).
It's here that Maher finds interesting debate fodder, particularly with a rogue Vatican priest who dismisses most Biblical tales as "stories."
Even here, however, Maher wastes ammunition on buffoons, such as Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda of the Growing In Grace ministry, who actually preaches that he IS Jesus -- or Sen. Mark Pryor, who hangs himself when asked how the most powerful politicians in the world can cling to the literal truth of the Bible, answering, "You don't have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate."
(This film is rated 14-A)
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