Karina Longworth, SpoutBlog:
Hopeful that [Bill Maher’s] feature-length collaboration with Larry Charles would offer a similar balance writ large, I went in to Religulous with an open mind –– which is more than can be said of Maher. The comedian-turned-political pundit/committed agnostic, and star and producer of this non-fiction film, explains early in the picture that he thinks organized religion of any kind is “detrimental to the progress of humanity.” Writing off the contents of the bible and all historical narratives of faith as “fairy tales,” he says he’s on a journey in search of an explanation as to how otherwise rational adults can buy into this kiddie stuff. “It’s too easy,” he complains.
Unfortunately, this last line turns out to be auto-critique: as Maher and Charles hop from backwoods America to international holy hot spots and back again. Maher continually flips the script, here using serious questioning not as an end, but a means to immature, unenlightening mockery. It quickly becomes apparent that Maher’s journey is not about finding out what makes religious people tick, but about using the tics of mostly fringe religious people to prop up the thesis Maher came in with. Which is––in a nutshell, but totally without irony––that everyday religious practice will soon result in global apocalypse.
James Rocchi, Cinematical:
But if Religulous were just a series of these kind of confrontations (and there are several of them, with Christians and Jews and Muslims and Mormons and more; Maher goes out of his way to be an equal-opportunity provocateur) it would quickly grow stale. Religulous also mixes in inventively shot and cut digressions about everything from the percentage of the American population represented by non-believers (16%, which Maher points out as a unheard, unfocused minority) to the more ornate points of Mormon theology (where the Mormon idea that Native Americans are one of the lost tribes of Israel is met with a short, sharp shock of a classic Mel Brooks clip). And just as in Borat, there are even great subtitle jokes annotating the matters at hand, like when the film points out the model triceratops wearing a saddle at a “Creation Museum,” or has arrows on-screen indicating the “infidels” in a scene shot inside a mosque, or delineates the similarities between the story of Jesus and the Egyptian god Horus, fact and images cut against each other to the bouncy chords of The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian.”
Jeffrey Wells, Hollywood Elsewhere:
How funny is it? Somewhat. I was LQTM-ing for the most part. There were a few chuckles at the screening I attended, two or three haw-haws, but no horse laughs. But humor isn’t precisely the point. This is a very rational film about a rational point of view.
That said, there are two things that need to be understood about Religulous. They aren’t major stoppers, but they’ve been bothering me since I saw it a couple of weeks ago.
One, Charles hasn’t shot Religulous with an especially vivid sense of style or panache of any kind. . . .
And two, Maher-the-rationalist doesn’t once acknowledge the general feeling known to all humans and animals since the beginning of intelligent life that there’s surely some kind of cosmic connectivity governing this and other worlds.
The film comes to the Vancouver festival later this month, and will be released across the continent October 3.
UPDATE: Reuters also speaks to Bill Maher and Larry Charles.
SEP 10 UPDATE: Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly:
Maher has come not to question religious dogma but to bury it. He’s out to burn holes in the Bible and to trash its literal followers–to declare open season on their contradictions and hypocrisies, heaping ridicule upon all they hold dear. Does he take cheap shots? I’m pleased to report that he does–more than you can count. Yet Maher, who is selling not Atheism but doubt, doesn’t disparage religion with the toxic misanthropy of, say, his fellow faith-basher Christopher Hitchens. Maher may be merciless, but he’s also curious–that’s why he’s such a terrific interviewer–and there’s a divine hilarity to his belief that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are fairy tales for adults. In Religulous, Bill Maher is like a sacrilegious rim-shot Joseph Campbell, ferreting out the links between our tall tales of God.
In addition to being funny as…well, hell, Religulous is a galvanizingly topical movie, since Maher’s ultimate concern is the connection between religion and politics in America today. It’s his view that anyone who is powerful enough to have his or her finger on the nuclear button should not be overly eager for the Rapture. You got a problem with that? Religulous might be called the first official movie jape of the Sarah Palin era.
For what it’s worth, I have no idea what sort of eschatology Sarah Palin subscribes to, but I find it curious that her religious beliefs are often brought up in connection with this film, while Barack Obama‘s religious beliefs — and those of the church he attended until very, very recently — seem to be off everyone’s radar.