TIFF Review: Religulous

Larry Charles' Religulous is a film I've been looking forward to since the project was first announced. I have a few confessions: I loved Charles' Borat and I've been an avid viewer of Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect over the years. I grew up Catholic, but Maher's views on world religion pretty much mirrors my current opinions. So it's sad to report that while I did enjoy Religulous greatly, it wasn't exactly what I was hoping it would be.

The basic gist involves Bill Maher traveling the world to various locations, meeting with experts and followers of various different religions. These interactions usually end with Maher making jokes at their expense or giving the participants just enough room to hang themselves. The idea is for the participants to look stupid and for Maher to prevail with simple logic.

Religulous is very funny, but its not your typical documentary. Maher takes advantage of manipulative techniques such as using subtitles or superimposed text on screen to contradict or ridicule what the participants are saying to the camera. Don't get me wrong, by calling the techniques manipulative, doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy the resulting footage. The comedic style of documentary allows for such unusual and usually unethical ideas. Also, the editing is top notice, inter-cutting stock footage throughout for further comic effect.

My biggest criticism of Religulous is that it focuses on comedy over content. The only real substance comes in the form of a few monologues that Maher filmed throughout his travels in various different biblical locations. If you've seen Maher's well written rants at the conclusion of his New Rules segment, then you have some idea of what to expect. It is here where we learn the film's only true informational gem – that another god predates Jesus that was also born on December 25th, walked on water, and was resurrected after death which is slight proof that religion is just the further perpetuation of ageless myths as fact.

At the end of the day I would have rather seen Maher take a more serious view on world religion. Hearing Maher and more specifically Larry Charles, speak on the subject of Religion in the post screening Q&A was incredibly fascinating. I want to see that documentary. It could have been more itneresting to see Maher placed in conflict with academics who can stand their own ground. But from a pure entertainment standard, Religulous succeeds with flying colors.

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10