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REEL CRITIC:

Atheists and agnostics, your prayers are answered with the release of “Religulous,” a comedy disguised as a documentary and hosted by your spiritual leader, Bill Maher.

This low-budget new release is offensive, insightful and controversial. It’s also the funniest movie I’ve ever seen on the polarizing subject of religion.

Larry Charles, the director of “Borat,” is back with a vengeance, and this time the high priest of comedy is making fun of Christians, Jews, Muslims and anybody else stupid enough to be interviewed by his guerrilla filmmaking crew as they go on a comedy pilgrimage across the globe visiting holy sites and sacred areas.

Can Maher convince his entertainment congregation that religion is a myth, and that the whole world has gone crazy? What happens when a Jewish cameraman gets discovered at an Islamic shrine? Should you add to Maher’s collection plate or save your charity for something a little less divisive and mainstream? I’m no preacher, but from my bully pulpit, I highly recommend making a donation to your local theater to get the answers to these questions.

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“Religulous” is going to make numerous people extremely upset, and I’m surprised that hypersensitive activist groups are not picketing theaters in protest of the R-rated production. If you consider yourself a person of faith, you need to be warned. Your religion and others’ will be ruthlessly attacked and mocked during the 101-minute running time.

Please remember, this is a sharply written comedy designed to provoke an emotion. This is not a PBS special on Muhammad or Moses, and most of the facts dropped into the movie are there to get a laugh. My audience was giggling all night, but some moviegoers were obviously uncomfortable with the sensitive material.

So why did I like this film when it makes fun of many things my family and I believe in? The answer is simple. It’s funny and entertaining, and that’s all I care about. You don’t have to believe the messenger to enjoy the message, and Maher does a fantastic job interviewing strange zealots while humorous clips are mixed in from vintage movies and cartoons starring Jesus and other religious icons.

Since Maher does not believe in organized religion, he does have an agenda. Exposing religious extremists is the main force behind the film.

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Maher asks the pressing question of why so many people are killing each other in the name of God, and would humanity be better served without religion?

He also believes that religion is based on a fairy tale, and he puts his theory to test while questioning important religious leaders and their followers.

These uncomfortable but necessary parts of the film create the conflict in Maher’s comedic sermon.

Technically, “Religulous” delivers to the masses in all areas, and the editor keeps things moving from joke to joke and from religion to religion. A few major faiths don’t get made fun of, but I’m sure there will be plenty of extra material on the DVD.

If you like edgy comedy and lively discussion, this is a good date movie for you and your special someone. If you’re looking for a feel-good romance, you won’t be in trouble if you skip this offering and see something a little more commercial.

I believe God gave us the ability to laugh, and I had more fun watching “Religulous” than I ever would at church.

If that’s a sin, I apologize. Since Maher doesn’t believe in God, somebody will have the ultimate last laugh when his final credits roll.


?MATT BELLNER is an actor who attends church in Burbank.

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