Framing this feature like an elaborate episode of his program Politically Incorrect, writer Bill Maher (born of Catholic father, Jewish mother) goes around the world confronting variously religious people with his idea that religion is a superstitious bureaucracy, “detrimental to the progress of humanity.” What begins essentially as a comedian’s roast works its way through several often funny, sometimes tense and always surreal interrogations toward an appeal to all reasonable people to renounce religion as an act of conscience.
One problem is that Maher doesn’t actually talk to many reasonable people, preferring instead the variously self-incriminating non-moderates who tend to make for easy targets. On the other hand, some targets really must be shot.
Maher still has a whiff of media-star-wannabe about him, yet his Michael Moore/Morgan Spurlock-style stunt is as sharp and ballsy and hilarious as it is righteous and repellent. That’s thanks in part to the discreetly ruthless comic touch of director Larry Charles (Borat), who brings pace and structure and self-referential commentary from choice snippets of stock footage (a quick shot from who knows where of Jesus getting bitch-slapped is just the beginning).
Doubt, Maher says, is his product, and you have to hand it to him for staying on message. The only thing that could make Religulous more offensive would be pulling its punches.