Sunday, October 21, 2012

Wholly Unfunny: "Wholly Moses!" (1980)

In the questionable comedy vein of Mel Brooks, "Wholly Moses!" tries to take the Bible story of Moses and make fun of it, resulting in the unfunniest Biblical spoof ever filmed.

There is no real plot here, just excuses to trot out stalwart comedy talent in underwritten roles. Dudley Moore and Laraine Newman are on a bus tour of the Holy Land, when they stumble across an ancient scroll in a cave. There they read the story of Herschel and Zerelda, also played by Moore and Newman. Herschel's life parallels Moses'. He was sent down the river to be found by the pharaoh's family at the same time Moses was. Herschel's birth father, the late James Coco, becomes Herschel's slave after Herschel is rescued by idol makers and works as a sculptor.

Eventually Herschel comes to work for the pharaoh as an astronomer, is banished, and ends up tending Moses' flock of sheep. Herschel and Moses are brothers in law, marrying sisters, and Herschel thinks God has chosen him to free his people in Egypt. Of course, Moses was receiving the Divine Word, but Herschel misunderstood. I'll pause here to laugh hysterically...pause...anyway, the rest of the film is a series of badly written scenes involving Moore and actors who are making "special appearances." These scenes do not propel the plot forward, they bring what little story there is to a grinding halt.

Jack Gilford plays a tailor. Dom DeLuise has maybe three lines when he meets Herschel in the desert. John Houseman is an archangel, just giving the same line readings he gave in "The Paper Chase." David L. Lander is a fake blind man "healed" by Herschel. Andrea Martin is one of Zerelda's sisters. I was not sure who Madeline Kahn was supposed to be, she gives a ride to Herschel, and has about a minute and a half of screen time. John Ritter plays a very unfunny devil. Richard Pryor has one scene as the pharaoh, but it was obviously shot at a different time than Moore's scene because the two do not appear onscreen together! In the end, Zerelda turns into a pillar of salt after looking back on New Sodom's destruction, ha ha. Herschel writes the Ten Commandments, and gives them to Moses, who is basking in all the glory. In the final scenes, the screenwriter decide to try and salvage this shallow film by having Herschel bait God into an argument. God comes off as an all powerful bully who was leading Herschel around for his own amusement, speaking through him only to give him the Ten Commandments. We even have Zerelda quip "God works in mysterious ways," thereby excusing everyone's very unChristian behavior during the film.

This film is not funny. There is nary a laugh to be found anywhere. At least Monty Python made fun of many established religious mainstays in "Life of Brian" in addition to their take on Jesus' life, but here the humor consists of poo poo jokes and characters constantly bumping their heads. This makes Mel Brooks look like Merchant/Ivory. Churchgoers will be offended, not by the film's attitude toward religion, but by the smugness the movie exhibits, impressed with their own hoitytoityness (I know, not a word) on a subject they obviously know nothing about.

"Wholly Moses" is wholly bad, and an embarrassment to all involved. I suggest you read the Book instead. (*) out of five stars.