Tuesday, July 7, 2015

1980 Week: Wholly Moses!

Unfunny, uninteresting, and unmemorable, this half-assed comedy set in Biblical times offers a drab Hollywood counterpart to the previous year’s Life of Brian, a controversial satire created by the madmen of Monty Python. Whereas Life of Brian is a deliberately offensive movie that asks provocative questions about the nature of religion, Wholly Moses! is a brainless compendium of sketches posing as scenes. Dudley Moore, trying but not succeeding to slide by on charm, stars in a modern-day wraparound sequence as Harvey, a New York City history professor taking a low-budget tour of the Holy Land. While exploring a cave with fellow tourist Zoey (Laraine Newman), Harvey discovers an ancient scroll that tells the story of a man named Herschel. Most of the movie depicts that story. Born to corpulent slave Hyssop (James Coco), Herschel (played as an adult by Moore) was set adrift on the Nile at the same time as Moses, but, by an accident of timing, led a life of little consequence instead of finding a grand destiny. Thus, the central joke in the movie is painfully similar to the central joke in Life of Brian—a schmuck’s existence runs parallel with that of a Biblical icon. Director Gary Weis and screenwriter Guy Thomas use this scenario as a framework for a string of uninspired gags, occasionally juicing the mix with cameos by familiar actors. (Dom DeLuise, John Houseman, Madeline Kahn, and Richard Pryor are among those who appear.) Typical of the lame gags in Wholly Moses! is the S&M-laden puppet show in the city of Sodom, or the throwaway reference to a graven-images store called “Chock Full of Gods.” Moore’s appeal isn’t nearly strong enough to make Wholly Moses! bearable, and Newman, of Saturday Night Live fame, is a non-presence. The only time the movie sparks briefly to life is during John Ritter’s droll cameo as Satan, even though Ritter wears a cheap satin costume and carries a plastic pitchfork. Despite the tacky trappings, Ritter injects amusing world-weariness into his role, at one point whining, “Well, here come the damned—they’ll be expecting me.”

Wholly Moses!: LAME

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