I hated Dilbert the comic strip at one time. Charles and Scott Adams’ work on the cartoon version converted me. In Dilbert‘s second season, Charles and Adams explored topics like faith vs. science and the existence of God, keeping the shows funny in the process. It had the thematic focus Religulous doesn’t, as Religulous is too scattershot to be of any lasting impact.
I don’t think Religulous is a massive ego-stroke for Maher, as he can be insightful at times, but the film touches on one topic for a minute or two before jumping to the next. Sometimes a segue between topics is provided, but not often. The main problem with this approach is that one doesn’t get a real understanding of religion’s perceived faults. Maher interviews someone, bounces an observation off the interviewee and moves on to his next one night stand. All that’s missing is a rimshot.
Larry Charles, for his part, adds to Religulous‘ shallowness. He leavens the interviews by adding relevant clips, pictures and/or captions to each one. For instance, a mention of Mormon temple garments is backed by captions explaining what they protect against. Since the joke is not yet subtle enough, Apollo Braun’s “Party in My Pants” plays in the background. This is supposed to be funny, but I find Charles’ approach annoying.
Religulous suffers most from a cheap ending. After ninety minutes of religion-mocking, Maher addresses the audience with “but seriously, folks…” for five minutes and change. In this case he argues for “rational” people to take a stand against religion. This isn’t a spoiler, since Maher established his position on religion earlier in the film. In that case, why not make a point-by-point argument refuting the major world religions in an intelligent manner, rather than riffing off Borat?
Religulous doesn’t work, as Maher doesn’t approach religion differently from others in the comedy field. George Carlin approaches the same central tenet as Religulous in one of his stand-up routines. It’s funnier and more to-the-point. Julia Sweeney, Doug Stanhope and Lewis Black have all mined religion’s humourous potential in a less smug way than Maher does in Religulous.
Hell, even Dilbert was better. Dogbert is a magnificent bastard, after all.
In the end, Religulous amounts to nothing more than 101 minutes of Bill Maher spanning the globe in search of the Anti-Religious Equation. I’d rather make up my own mind about religion than have someone else tell me how and what I should believe.
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