Comedy's unholy alliance Review: Eddie Murphy spouts platitudes and feel-good attitudes as 'Holy Man' wastes his talents.

October 09, 1998|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

A feel-good movie that won't make you feel good, "Holy Man" is so rife with problems that it's hard to believe anyone really thought this thing through before OK'ing it.

It wastes Eddie Murphy. It treats musings that would look trite on a Hallmark card as wisdom. It takes potshots at only the most obvious of targets and pretends to be satire. And it treats the ability to smile while conning people out of their money as a good thing.

Murphy (remember when his comedies had bite to them?) plays an enigmatic, robe-wearing philosopher-type first seen walking blithely along a highway, kissing the ground and ignoring the taunts of passing motorists. After coming to the aid of two stranded motorists, G (that's his name, not his rating -- although it could be both, so homogenized is his character) faints. The motorists take G to the hospital, where he quickly recovers and promises eternal friendship to the couple that helped him.

That would be Jeff Goldblum and Kelly Preston as two employees of a home shopping channel. Goldblum is Ricky, an account executive whose sales have been stagnant for so long that his job is in jeopardy; Preston is Kate, the hotshot new executive brought in to pump life into the operation and get rid of all the dead wood.

Of course, that should include Ricky, but Kate takes kind of a liking to the guy. And that's where things stand when G enters the picture. Anxious to help Ricky any way he can, G gladly goes on the air as a shill for the worthless merchandise the channel pushes. Thanks to G's smiling manner and new-age philosophizing (including a plea to stop watching television, always the first thing enlightened types in the movies urge their audience), sales rocket, and Ricky gets his career back.

But at what price?

That's the central question of "Holy Man," one the film never grapples with. G is promoted as the most wonderful of creatures, a guy who says nice things, smiles a lot, wouldn't hurt a fly and will do anything to help his pal Ricky be the good man G knows he can be.

Unfortunately, that includes convincing tens of thousands of people to shell out their hard-earned money on worthless junk. He may be helping Ricky, but he isn't doing a thing for the poor dude in Peoria forking over 20 bucks for a doormat that changes with the seasons.

This guy is supposed to be a hero? "Holy Man" portrays Ricky as having the dark soul, since he makes a living off gullible people. But G, whose "goodness" makes Ricky a hundred times more effective at what he does, is a good guy?

Murphy is pretty much wasted as G, a role that only demands that he shave his head and smile a lot. "Holy Man" also continues a wearying trend in which Murphy's films are as concerned with preaching as entertaining, with steadily diminishing results -- the line from "The Nutty Professor" to "Doctor Dolittle" to "Holy Man" heads straight downhill.

Most of the film's humor comes through the infomercials, and while they're often funny -- James Brown, Betty White, Florence Henderson, Dan Marino and (especially) Morgan Fairchild have a good time spoofing their images -- they're also obvious. How much wit does it take to wring laughs out of infomercials?

Goldblum turns in his usual solid performance, and Preston is plenty charming. But director Stephen Herek ("Mr. Holland's Opus") is so intent on getting his feel-good mantra across, the effect is deadening; cheap sentiment is cheap sentiment, and treating it like wisdom doesn't make it any more profound.

'Holy Man'

Starring Eddie Murphy, Jeff Goldblum and Kelly Preston

Directed by Stephen Herek

Released by Touchstone Rated PG (double entendres)

Running time 92 minutes

Sun score * 1/2

Pub Date: 10/09/98

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