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Tucson Weekly Holy Crap

Eddie Murphy's new comedy is less than heavenly.

By Polly Higgins

OCTOBER 19, 1998:  SPIRITUALITY IS HOT at the box office. First we had those angel movies; more recently there was that Jesus freak Simon Burch, and of course Dreamworks' animated, much-anticipated Moses movie opens in two months. Why all this deep thought, and why now?

Maybe we're taking stock of our empty lives as the end of the century draws near, or maybe the studios have simply found the ultimate way to sell an unsubtle story. I don't have the answers to such universal questions, but I do know that, after the revelatory experience provided by the God-genre film Holy Man, Eddie Murphy is certainly an apt choice for spiritual guide to the next millennium.

A God film, as with all genre films, has certain conventions that must be followed. The most important is the reinforcement of the power of love to a) correct character flaws; b) bring cosmic truths into focus; and c) support capitalism. Holy Man fits perfectly into the God genre because it actually incorporates d) all of the above, into its message.

Ricky (Jeff Goldblum) is a money-hungry infomercial director with many faults. First of all, he's not successful at what he does, despite his father complex and desire to die on the road just like his dead salesman dad. Nor does he have a girlfriend, an especially obvious lack in your life if you like to frolic in the ocean naked with Eddie Murphy, as Ricky does. Finally, he only cares about himself. This, as we know, is bad news in most religious circles.

Fate, via a flat tire and an automatic transmission, brings Ricky into contact with pilgrim G (Murphy). After some unnecessary scenes, we find both shirtless and drinking G tea in Ricky's kitchen. G puts his journey on hold so that he may help his new friend get in touch with himself and discover universal truth. Of course, love in Hollywood films generally manifests itself in the institution of the couple. Since man love with G would be unacceptable to many religions and is especially offensive within the parameters of the God genre, Ricky focuses his attention on Kate (scientologist Kelly Preston). Though her main flaw is not addressed, this fashion-challenged character is nonetheless good for Ricky as the media analyst who saves his career and, more importantly, as the female who manipulates him into converting to the G religion.

Another necessary element of the God genre is the presentation of evil in contrast to spiritual good. Sure, Holy Man has a Satan-like character (McBainbridge, played by Robert Loggia), but it's too nuanced to stop there. This film attacks infomercials, and these are super bad because they prey upon weak, lonely technocrats. (This critique is about a decade late, but if we consider Murphy's outdated comedic style, the match perhaps becomes more deserving.) The infomercial makers are greedy, and if you saw Seven you understand how that fits in here. This untopical topic also allows for numerous cameos by funny people such as Florence Henderson selling the Suck 'n' Seal vacuum packer, Betty White selling an aphrodisiac, and Soupy Sales selling his soul. The God genre is often played out in a comedic realm, because laughter makes viewers feel good and, therefore, more open to the God genre message of love.

It's my belief--and this is just a theory--that "G" is short for God. G was put on Ricky's planet to touch him in a way that only an angel can. That's why G agrees to start his own show, the confusingly sexual G Spot, during Ricky's time slot on the Good Buy Shopping Network, to help him improve his sales. And viewers love G, because, well, G is love, and because it's hard not to at least have some attraction for people who buck social convention and wear pajamas all the time.

But in the process of selling lots of crap, Kate points out, G becomes distracted from his journey and starts to change. Ricky, then (this is another genre convention) must face a character-defining question: Set G free or get a bigger office? Ricky has much to learn, and he opts for the latter. Kate bolts, and Ricky hits rock bottom. Or does he? For in his journey to reclaim his soul, he discovers a cosmic truth: A life without love is no life at all.

Ricky retires G and--with the help of a studio audience, cable television and a cell phone--woos Kate back. The capitalist system is thus upheld, because, according to the Neilsen Corporation, an audience full of love is more likely to reach for credit cards than is an audience of hate mongers.

The messages here are powerful, far-reaching, and certainly not suitable for children: Do not turn your back on love, even if your partner wears shades of brown that do not match; infomercials are still fodder for endless humor; and, though you may need a lobotomy first, if you accept the comedy of Eddie Murphy into your heart, you'll be a very enlightened moviegoer indeed.

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