Thursday, October 5, 2017

1980 Week: In God We Tru$t

          Improving somewhat over his weak directorial debut, The Last Remake of Beau Gueste (1977), actor Marty Feldman does an okay job as a storyteller with this satire of for-profit religion, which he cowrote with Chris Allen. Naturally, Feldman also plays the leading role, employing the same comic dexterity that made him a star in his native England before American audiences embraced his performance as Igor in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (1974). Featuring supporting turns by Peter Boyle, Andy Kaufman, and Louise Lasser—plus an extended cameo by Richard Pryor—In God We Tru$t never wants for skillful comedians. It also presents appealing themes of piety over profit and intimacy over repression. But In God We Tru$t disappoints more often than it connects. The characterizations are contrived, the satire is shallow, and most of the jokes misfire, especially the borderline distasteful sex gags. Slick work by the aforementioned big names compensates mightily, as do polished production values, so In God We Tru$t is basically watchable. Yet that’s about as far as one can go in terms of praise.
        The picture starts at a financially troubled monastery, where Brother Ambrose (Feldman) gets assigned to raise money. He sets his sights on televangelist Armageddon T. Thunderbird (Kaufman), but the super-wealthy preacher refuses to see the penniless monk. Ambrose then meets a prostitute named Mary (wink-wink) and an insane con-man preacher named Dr. Sebastian Melmoth, who drives a school bus converted into a traveling church, complete with a shingled roof and a steeple. Those roles are played by Lasser and Feldman’s Young Frankenstein costar Boyle, respectively. Most of this movie’s screen time gets chewed up by scenes of Mary giving Ambrose a sexual education and by scenes of Thunderbird, who sports an absurdly gigantic pompadour, fleecing his flock whenever he’s not consulting with a computer program called G.O.D. (voiced and eventually played onscreen by Pryor).
          Typical jokes include a punny monastery sign (“Keep Thy Trappist Shut”) and the bluntly satirical name of a house of worship (“The Worldwide Church of Psychic Self-Humiliation”). Sex gags feature Feldman taking cold showers until Mary sleeps with him, at which point the “Hallelujah” chorus fills the soundtrack. The picture also has slapstick chase scenes and a vignette of Feldman screaming a lustful confession to a deaf priest while the whole congregation listens intently. Alas, no matter how sincerely Feldman wanted to skewer Christians foibles, Monty Python’s outrageous Life of Brian (1979) was a hard act to follow. That said, it’s a shame this mediocre effort was Feldman’s final major project. He died in 1982, leaving behind only supporting roles in the ghastly Jerry Lewis flop Slapstick of Another Kind (1982) and the mediocre UK comedy Yellowbeard (1983).

In God We Tru$t: FUNKY

1 comment:

Allen Rubinstein said...

Totally agree with the review, but the reason to see this is Kaufman. Yeah, he's playing a hoary cliche, but nobody could play it like him.

"We will seek God and we will hail God!
Seek! Hail!
Seek! Hail!
Sieg! Heil!"