Borat director Larry Charles goes on the road again with another flippant provocateur, TV talk show host Bill Maher. This pseudo-documentary's premise is as simplistic as its targets: atheist Maher confronts an array of religious hucksters around the world to underscore his belief that all religion is a sham.
Speaking as an atheist myself, I found the film too obviously preaching to the choir (pun intended). And as an atheist, I was rather let down by Maher, who doesn't strike me as a gifted social critic so much as simply a pushy comedian. I learned absolutely nothing new. Perhaps watching this movie will be a more delightful experience to those who know and love Maher's TV work. I haven't seen much of him before, so I wasn't giving his smirky "But what if you're wrong?" remarks to religious sorts a free pass.
There is a lot of potential for a film that - even in an era rife with documentaries that criticize modern Christianity - dares to denounce all religions. (A Christian friend reminded me that if atheists are true to their word, then they can't just slam the Christians and the Muslims while keeping their mouths shut about the Jews, Buddhists, Rastafarians, et al.) Religulous is, in fact, at its most interesting is when Maher finally starts investigating some of the kookier devotees of Judaism and Islam.
But there's obviously too much to cover in one feature - perhaps Religulous would be better served as two films, one which attacks Christianity and one which attacks the world's other religions - and Charles and Maher ignore Hinduism and Buddhism completely while wasting valuable screen time on a boring marijuana devotee in Amsterdam and some Latino con artist who's convinced thousands that he is the Second Coming.
What gets the biggest laughs in Religulous are Charles's very clever cutaways to pop culture references and obscure Christian films. It reminded me of the older David Letterman shows where director Hal Gurnee would randomly cut to a strange camera angle or some stock footage for a quick laugh whenever the show was dragging. The cutaways here are equally hilarious, but they're not enough to warrant rushing out to see the film, whether you're an atheist or not.