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Overall Rating

Awesome: 14%
Worth A Look: 6%
Pretty Bad: 28%
Total Crap: 22%

4 reviews, 26 user ratings

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by Matt Seaver

"Bill Maher is preaching to the choir... and he HATES preaching! AND CHOIRS!"
3 stars

This is an exceedingly difficult movie to watch, let alone review, without allowing some personal feelings to slip in between the cracks. It is so slanted to one particular viewpoint (and shamelessly intended to be that way) that to watch it with any attempt at objectivity almost gets in the way of the film’s objective: Bill Maher wants you to be incensed or repulsed, preferably at his subjects of ridicule. But he’s OK if you’re repulsed by his actions, too. That just means you become one of his subjects.

Much like Larry Charles’s last cinematic effort, Borat, this film becomes a series of unscripted “gotcha” moments as Maher travels to different religious-minded communities and locations around the world and chats with anyone willing to talk to him. Most of these conversations follow the same pattern: Maher sets up the pins so the unsuspecting interviewee can trip and stutter their way to his ultimate point. Points to Maher for really hitting every possible slant on the major religions – he interviews the guy playing Jesus at Orlando’s “Holy Land Experience,” then makes a stop at a Trucker’s Chapel before jumping on a plane for London, Amsterdam, Israel and the Vatican.

The film is by no means even-keeled, and never makes any attempt to act like it. I mean, c’mon, it’s Bill Maher. If you’ve ever seen one of his TV shows, you know where he stands on the issue of religion. One thing I did find interesting is that he makes it very clear who amongst his victims he actually respects, and the answer is actually surprising. Above everyone else, the resident Vatican astronomer and a pastor working in Rome meet the least of his scorn, mainly because they show a disdain similar to Maher’s for literal interpretations of scripture. Nearly everyone else is subject to his well-laid traps, and that is where most of the comedy emerges. It’s pretty funny to watch Maher get a sitting senator to admit that you don’t need to pass an IQ test to get into the senate, even if you might not approve of how Maher backed the poor guy into that corner.

Content-wise, where Maher swings wide is his overall condemnation of religion as a whole. It’s hard to argue with the missteps of the three major religions as a whole – throughout history mistakes have been made, and the price of those mistakes has been devastating. But where Maher will lose a lot of people is his complete dismissal of the importance or value people place on faith. Not big-picture, in-the-beginning Faith, but faith on a much more personal, private level. There is one point early on, while in the Trucker’s Chapel, when Maher admits that a lack of faith as complete as his own may very well be a luxury, and a result of his secular/commercial success. At no point is he able to reconcile that admission with the idea that people less fortunate than him might need something to fill the gap. It tarnishes the tone of the film and makes Maher very often come off as the snooty liberal intellectual looking down on the “uneducated masses,” which is exactly how most of those targets see him in the first place. Everything is exacerbated by the final scene, in which Maher steps forward as the guy we’ve always seen. His final monologue is an impassioned but bitter and condescending plea for an end to religion as a whole, and it reeks of a stubbornness that allows no access to anyone who might think Maher is being just a little too harsh or extreme. If the film was actually intended to convince anyone to Maher’s point of view, he may very well lose them here.

Content and opinion aside… the film is a mess. The editing looks like it was done on the fly for Maher’s HBO show, not a feature production that has been in the works for a few years. A lot of sequences, particularly jumping from an interview to a reflection by Maher are done in a very jarring, nonsensical way that took away from the impact of what Maher was trying to say. It felt amateurish and sloppily done. I think there’s also an argument that the film might have been a better, more effective film had Maher done away with some of the comedic non-sequiturs he uses to ridicule his subjects. Many are clips of films and cartoons used to describe particular passages he’s discussing, but others – clips of porn, tangentially-related still photos or subtitles used to snarkily comment on the scene – lead viewers to an early conclusion that would probably be more effective had it been reached without the blatant visual aide. Enough of Maher’s interviewees jump off the cliff of credibility all by themselves; they don’t need him to give them that extra push. It actually makes Borat look a little more polished by comparison, because at least there’s faith that the viewer will draw the obvious conclusion without being hit upside the head with it.

This is a film with a clear and stated purpose, and the nature of that purpose and of the man in charge virtually guarantees that this one will be relegated to preaching to the choir, pun intended. That’s not to say that Maher doesn’t make some very valid and interesting points, or even that he doesn’t succeed in his goal. It just means that it is presented in a way that is so unappealing to anyone who doesn’t already agree with Maher that the motivation to watch and potentially become one of his targets fades pretty quickly. The film itself stands too much in the way of its goal. It’s certainly fun to watch, so long as you agree with Maher or aren’t at all offendable, but I think it’s accurate to say that this film is much more enjoyable than it is likable.

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originally posted: 10/16/08 07:07:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/30/16 morris campbell religious nuts will hate it but they are tight hypocrytes who dont know the mind of god b 4 stars
6/08/12 gautama siddharta funny but very disingenuous 3 stars
3/01/11 Captain Slog Silly people still sucking on their religious soothers won't like this movie 5 stars
10/26/10 gunnar Important topic, but film is unconstructive in raising it 3 stars
6/08/10 User Name Maher doesn't seem to compelled to change minds, but to inspire convversation. 4 stars
5/01/10 Roger Closing on the Truth 5 stars
8/31/09 Sarah Any good points are eclipsed by Bill's arrogance and inability to have a real conversation. 1 stars
8/04/09 John What Bill Maher is actually going after is not so much religion, as religious extremism. 2 stars
7/14/09 Linda one of the 7 deadlist sins Bill, PRIDE! 1 stars
6/20/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess Trired of being condescended to for not having an imaginary friend? Then this is a must see 4 stars
2/19/09 Ron Patterson Best film I have seen in years. Religious idiots will hate it. 5 stars
1/31/09 suck it Attacking the nerd in the Jesus costume was gay 1 stars
12/25/08 Justin I liked it. 5 stars
11/20/08 hayzues Making fun of small-brains who believe in organized religion is fun. 5 stars
11/11/08 Colleen H not even worth the free pass I had to this movie! 1 stars
10/30/08 Noisejunkie Only for those who already agree with Maher...not funny and mean-spirited to the rest of us 2 stars
10/16/08 KLAATU perfect! spot on examination of the mass delusion that is religion 5 stars
10/09/08 meth cool when on me 1 stars
10/08/08 damalc it wasn't supposed to be funny 3 stars
10/07/08 Satan I loved this film 1 stars
10/05/08 nubhealth not funny 1 stars
10/05/08 fihtnight Jesus doesn't find buppets funny 1 stars
10/05/08 Jesus Even I agree with this movie. 5 stars
10/05/08 doorman It was far more mean spirited than funny 1 stars
10/04/08 LFlybt A smug little movie by a smug little asshole 1 stars
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  01-Oct-2008 (R)
  DVD: 17-Feb-2009


  DVD: 17-Feb-2009

[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Larry Charles

Written by

  Bill Maher

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