There's something to offend everyone in Bill Maher's Religulous, which just could be the funniest, most outlandish film of its kind since Borat.
Travelling around the world from Israel to the Vatican, from backwoods southern churches to Amsterdam's Red Light District, from Grand Central Station to the Mormon Cathedrals, talk-show host and comedian Bill Maher puts his distinctive stamp on this comic journey to find the meaning of religion around the world. And he makes it very clear he doesn't believe in any of it as he skewers true believers across the globe in interviews that range from surprisingly thoughtful and intelligent to mostly mocking and outrageous. As a political documentary, Religulous falls into the Michael Moore style of 'gotcha' filmmaking, which only figures since the director is Larry Charles, the man behind Borat. Together they find lots of easy, unassuming targets and use various film techniques in the editing room to insure the interviewees look utterly foolish. Undeniably there is funny stuff here, and reaction to the film will totally depend on your own ability to laugh at the sacreligiousness of it all.
As this is purportedly all real and unstaged, there are no actors, just several individuals who stand out as highlights in Maher's quest to skewer everything revolving around the subject. The smartest exchange is also one of the weirdest as Maher takes on a young man portraying Jesus at an Orlando, Florida, theme park called Holy Land. Between several daily crucifixions, this guy goes toe-to-toe with Maher and actually makes some cogent points the host later acknowledges in a backhanded way. A hilarious interview with a right-wing U.S Senator, who for some ill-advised reason agreed to go on camera, points out the hypocrisy involved in the merging of God and politics and verifies the wisdom of a separation between church and state as he makes a fool of himself, admitting that "you don't have to have a high I.Q. to be in the United States Senate." Another riotous interview occurs with a man who vehemently rails against the legitimacy of being gay even as he hugs Maher when they are finished.
Like his mockumentary Borat, Charles is careful to pretty much condemn every imaginable religion from Islam to Scientology, and even Maher's own theological background is dissected in an interview he does with his mother. What makes it all work is that everyone is targeted and nothing is off the table, even if it seems like the evangelicals take it on the chin more than anyone else. What Charles manages to emphasize in his final cut is Maher's main thesis--that religion has become the butt of all our problems, especially when you have politicians and terrorists all doing things in the name of their own Gods. Although Charles avoids the outright outlandish situations he set up in Borat, the access he and Maher manage to get is impressive, especially considering the comedian's instant recognizability, which would seem a hindrance in getting cooperation from some understandably reluctant potential "victims." Much of what they've gotten on film is so entertaining, you almost want to pray for a sequel.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.