Anti-religious film preaches to converted

Wed Oct 8, 2008 12:44pm EDT
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By Ed Stoddard

DALLAS (Reuters) - In Bill Maher's new film "Religulous," the comedian says he wants his fellow non-believers to "come out of the closet" to counter what he views as religion's dangerous influence on the world.

Judging from reviews and audience reaction in some U.S. theaters this past weekend, it may be that all Maher has done with the movie that skewers Christianity, Islam and Judaism is preached to his own choir.

"Because (Maher) wants to be amusing above all else, he takes his questions not to sober religious thinkers but to the assorted fruits and nuts that populate the fringes of religion just as they do the fringes of atheism," said the LA Times in a review of the film.

"The humor he creates at their expense proves nothing except that dealing from a stacked deck benefits no one but the dealer," the Times said.

The movie, which opened to $3.4 million in ticket sales in about 500 theaters this past weekend, found resonance among the Maher's converted even if it made some believers see red.

At a theater in a suburb north of Dallas Friday evening, the audience erupted into applause when the credits began rolling -- a rare occurrence.

"It was funny but it had a lot of depth and I'm a skeptic," said 23-year-old computer tech Ryan Karakani, who is of Persian descent but who said his grandfather was an Anglican minister.

In Phoenix, an opening-day audience hooted and chortled throughout the film's 101 minute run time, and several viewers said afterward that they found it by turns funny, edifying and something of a consolation.   Continued...

<p>Documentary film "Religulous" narrator Bill Maher and director Larry Charles (R) pose for a portrait during the 33rd Toronto International Film Festival September 7, 2008. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>