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MOVIE REVIEW : Richardson’s ‘Pope Must Die’ Isn’t Divine Satire

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Once having cast Robbie Coltrane, the rotund Glasgow-born actor-comedian, as the head of the Roman Catholic Church in “The Pope Must Die” (selected theaters), writer-director Peter Richardson starts running out of ideas with accelerating speed. Coltrane is wonderful as a sweet-natured priest in a rural Italian orphanage who loves to perform rock ‘n’ roll for his kids. With his girth, he looks born to wear a cassock.

Through a glitch in an underworld plot to place a puppet pontiff on the throne of St. Peter, Coltrane’s Father Dave Albinizi, much to his astonishment, winds up Pope.

“The Pope Must Die” is but a pale carbon of vintage British comedies. As a satire on church corruption, hypocrisy and obsolescence, it has an unstinting self-congratulatory outrageousness that far outstrips the laughter it generates. Yet it is essential for an ecclesiastical comedy, especially as one as risk-taking as this, to be absolutely hilarious if it is to avoid being absolutely tasteless. Although the film makers mean to urge reform in the church rather than to call for its destruction, “The Pope Must Die” is certain to offend many.

Richardson, founder of the Comic Strip, a British comedy troupe, and co-writer Pete Richens envision the College of Cardinals as a bunch of largely senile fools easily manipulated by one of their number (Alex Rocco, playing very broadly), an out-and-out gangster in charge of Vatican finances and in none-too-secret partnership with Herbert Lom’s major underworld kingpin.

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Predictably, the new Pope proves not to be the naive hick Rocco and his chief henchman, a prissy monsignor (an amusing Paul Bartel), assume he is. There’s a highly contrived subplot involving a sexy Beverly D’Angelo, her ill-fated rock star son (Balthazar Getty) and Getty’s girlfriend (Khedija Sassi), who just happens to be the ultra-possessive Lom’s daughter.

Shot largely in Yugoslavia, “The Pope Must Die” (rated R for language, some steamy sex) hasn’t any more style than wit, but D’Angelo, in a fairly improbable part, manages to make the same strong impression as Coltrane, who has the wistfulness of a classic clown. “Cinema Paradiso’s” endearing little Salvatore Cascio plays one of Father Albinizi’s orphans. As splendid as Coltrane is, he alone can’t save the show.

‘The Pope Must Die’

Robbie Coltrane: Father Albinizi

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Beverly D’Angelo: Veronica Dante

Herbert Lom: Vittorio Corelli

Alex Rocco: Cardinal Rocco

Paul Bartel: Monsignor Vitchie

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A Miramax Films release of a Palace-British Screen presentation in association with Film Four International/Miramax/Michael White of a Palace/Stephen Woolley production. Director Peter Richardson. Producer Stephen Woolley. Executive producers Michael White, Nik Powell. Screenplay Richardson, Pete Richens. Cinematographer Frank Gell. Editor Katherine Wenning. Costumes Sandy Powell. Production design John Ebden.. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (language and sensuality).


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