In their already-controversial documentary, talk show host Bill Maher and Borat director Larry Charles travel the globe in order to undo and belittle everything involving religion. But rather than fully explore a complex subject, this frustrating film goes for pat answers and easy laughs. Charles goes the Michael Moore route and inserts jokey film clips between the interviews, just in case Maher, the undisputed King of Snark, doesn’t have you in stitches. A running joke on how Maher really isn’t that funny or talented only underlines how a better host or comedian could have made so much more of the opportunities presented. Maher is in good form on his HBO show Real Time; here he’s sometimes subdued, but mostly just smug and out of his element discussing theology. I frequently had answers to Maher’s pointed questions that he and his loopy interview subjects seemed to miss (some pretty practical stuff, really) and a number of the “facts” he brings up aren’t true (whether you believe he was the son of God or merely a politically driven carpenter, Jesus Christ was indeed a real person).
A smarter movie would approach the positive and negative aspects of religious faith with sharp probing but without mockery. (Unlike Traitor, here’s a movie that makes total monsters out of Muslims and, for that matter, anyone who believes in God.) Occasionally, this long, tacky doc makes thoughtful points that support Maher’s declaration of “doubt,” but most of his goofy interview subjects have no grasp on who they are, let alone what they believe.
It’s one thing to demonize religion, which is what the film is after. But Charles’s film falls apart at the end, when the lighthearted tone is abruptly replaced by a ridiculously heavy-handed epilogue that derails the entire movie. On top of Maher declaring “religion must die,” you get an angry montage of mushroom clouds and, for no reason and to the movie’s shame, a shot of the Challenger space shuttle exploding. This touch, I felt, went completely over the line and, unlike the rest of the film’s dime store blasphemy, was beyond tasteless. The movie is preaching to its choir (fed up atheists) but instead of illuminating, the result is insulting to anyone’s intelligence. MTW