Bill Maher’s one-man stand-up attack on religious fundamentalism is a dog that has more bark than bite—a skeptical, secular-humanist hounding of the hypocrites, amusingly annotated with sarcastic subtitles and clips from cheesy biblical spectacles. Religulous opens with Maher at ground zero in Israel, reporting from Megiddo, the designated spot for the Battle of Armageddon. By way of an alternative vision of the apocalypse, the movie breaks into a comic montage juxtaposing all manner of holy men, true believers, and pious pols—then licenses the comedian to spend the rest of its 101 minutes turning his blunderbuss on this barrel of fish. Although his antics are directed by Borat showman Larry Charles, Maher is hardly comparable to Sacha Baron Cohen as a trickster performance artist. Nor is Maher a swashbuckling provocateur like Michael Moore, comforting the afflicted and confronting the infidels with his intimidating bulk. Mainly, Maher is pleased to play devil’s advocate; occasionally he presents himself as celebrity Antichrist. The last half of the movie is more or less spent with the freaks on the carnival midway in preparation for Maher’s big spiel. Throwing his own brand of snake oil on the fire, he insists that faith makes a virtue of stupidity, identifies religion as dangerous because it encourages people to believe they have all the answers, and warns the world to “grow up or die.” Heavy stuff.
Mon., Oct. 6, 2008

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