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Holy Man

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Holy Man

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Jeff Goldblum
Director: Stephen Herek
Rated: PG
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: October 1998
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Kelly Preston, Jon Cryer, Robert Loggia

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

If your land has no rain and the soil is dry, you spend your days irrigating it. If your land grows olive trees, you harvest olives. If your land is rich beyond history's wildest dreams, you go shopping. "Holy Man" takes on America's favorite pastime, gently rather than bitingly suggesting that happiness cannot be gained through this activity, the title character insisting that material things are merely a substitute for what we really want. The idea is not a new one. We fireside philosophers have pondered whether wealth beyond a certain point contributes all that much to our joy and, in fact, whether compulsive collecting is really a sign of inner, insatiable needs. In "Holy Man," Eddie Murphy, in the role of "G," favors the simple life without material possessions and walks away from a lucrative contract to continue a pilgrimage to places and people unknown. Before he flees from the world of things, he provides us with a portrait of a man who connects with us because of his uncomplicated, homespun warmth, beaming smile, and selfless devotion to people he has grown to love.

But the 37-year-old, Brooklyn-born Mr. Murphy is not as amusing as he was in his previous pictures, especially the "Beverly Hills Cop" series, nor does his performance show the depth he displayed in "The Nutty Professor." The movie is far blander than his concert performance in "Eddie Murphy Raw," and though it contains moments of caustic wit, this PG- rated picture is so namby-pamby, so confused about its view of frenzied shopping, that when you leave the theater you may want to tune into QVC or other cable network on your 35 inch TV and start ordering. Tom Schulman's plot, as directed by Stephen Herek, gives us a mixed message. "G" is supposed to dissuade his audience from their frantic pursuit of material goods, yet his appearance on the TV shopping channel, where he pleads for better human relations and love of nature, nets the producer the biggest boost in sales in his history. What's more "G"'s promotion of the spiritual lifts the income of the advertisers not only through the sly manipulation of the TV cameras but by "G's" own endorsement of products like chain saws, gadgets that use your car's motor to cook food, and straw welcome mats.

The story opens on Ricky (Jeff Goldblum), a TV executive whose job is threatened by his boss, producer McBainbridge (Robert Loggia), because the shopping channel is suffering from a flatness in sales. Driving along a Miami highway with an attractive but businesslike marketing manager, Kate (Kelly Preston), he suffers a blowout which "G," a holy man on a pilgrimage, offers to fix. When "G" is almost run down by Ricky's car, Ricky and Kate take him to a hospital and pay his medical bills, while Ricky invites him to stay at his home during his recuperation. Insinuating himself onto the stage of the shopping channel during a live broadcast, he imparts advice to a young woman demonstrating a battery-operated facial toner that "You don't need that to be beautiful: you're beautiful already," but does not leave the platform without turning up the current and propelling her face into unearthly contortions. Picking up another actor's chainsaw, he asks his audience what they would rather see: the studio trashed by this advertiser's product or G's carving a statue of the Venus de Milo with his own hands. To see destruction is the implied answer, and G provides us with just that.

After a series of skits of varying merit, G is offered a lucrative job on the station with the proviso that his agreeing to a contract would save Ricky's job. G's ultimate decision flies in the face of sentiment, implying that it's better for an individual to seek his own happiness than to better the lives of others through preaching and charitable donations.

The movie is dominated not by Eddie Murphy but by Jeff Goldblum, a versatile actor indeed, who can flesh out a comic performance as easily as he can horrify us in the role of a fly. The romantic scenes which are superimposed on the ad satire appear contrived but more than that they distract our focus from the primary point of the story: that spiritual goodness leads to contentment far more readily than material engorgement. The age difference between Kelly Preston and Jeff Goldblum does not help their chemistry together, their tearful reconciliation coming across as merely sticky and hackneyed. For a more pungent, loopier send-up of America's slavery to goods, try to catch a revival of Percy Adlon's "Rosalie Goes Shopping," featuring the obsession of Bavarian-born Marianne Sagebrecht, who has settled into an Arkansas town and spends whole days phoning the shopping channel while lying in bed.

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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