Friday, October 9, 1998

Surplus of comic bits but still it's hard to buy

Movie: Holy Man

Posted on Fri, Oct 9, 1998 at 4:00 AM

**1/2
Holy Man
Length: 1 hour, 54 minutes
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
Website: http://www.movies.com/holyman/index.html
Release Date: 1998-10-09
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Jeff Goldblum, Kelly Preston, Robert Loggia, Jon Cryer
Director: Stephen Herek
Screenwriter: Tom Schulman
Music Score: Alan Silvestri
WorkNameSort: Holy Man
Our Rating: 2.50

G, the robe-wearing spiritual guru who dispenses pop philosophy while he urges viewers of the Good Buy Shopping Network to purchase useless gadgets, has some insight for his loyal fans. "Let go, give in and take the journey," says the gentle seller, as played with a million-dollar-smile and a surplus of good-natured affability by Eddie Murphy in "Holy Man."

That's probably good advice, too, for filmgoers stuck in the same room with this predictable, faux-hip offering from Stephen Herek, director of such drivel as "The Mighty Ducks" and "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead": Abandon hope all ye who enter here of a Murphy laugh riot. Lower expectations, and prepare to be satisfied with a mere handful of genuinely funny comic bits.

The title character, whose unidentified religion is a mix of New Age, multicolor Buddhism and self-help bromides, shows up out of the blue on a Miami interstate, casually dodging traffic as he walks toward a couple in distress.

Ricky (Jeff Goldblum), the harried, sexually predatory manager of GBSN, and perky, vivacious Kate (Kelly Preston), the Home Shopping Network-like station's new media analyst, are changing a flat tire on Ricky's blue Jaguar convertible when they meet the man about to change their world.

The homeless drifter, who describes his travels as a "pilgrimage," soon enough worms his way into their lives, settling into Ricky's swanky South Beach apartment and charming Kate and other business-party guests all too eager to submit to the mystery man's healing hypnosis and disappearing-Rolex party tricks.

There's a higher calling, though, one clumsily telegraphed at the beginning of the movie. GBSN's stable of celebrity sellers and inane products -- James Brown and his "Soul Survivor" system, Betty White's orgasm-inducing "Clam" perfume, Morgan Fairchild's "Insta-tuck" device for wrinkles -- no longer are bringing in the necessary income.

The self-styled holy man provides his own form of divine intervention, walking into the GBSN studios unannounced, crashing his way through various sets and eventually landing his own afternoon segment, "The G Spot."

His wisdom -- "Why do we yawn at creation and thrill at destruction"? -- is praised by teachers of the Talmud, the Koran and the New Testament alike, and he becomes a Truman-like hero to millions of viewers. At one point, the host with the most walks outside to stare at a clump of grass, and homeowners across the country follow suit. Ever met anyone who could identify an announcer on HSN or QVC?

"Holy Man," before all is said and done, also gives us a villain in the form of Scott Hawkes (Eric McCormack), a one-time boyfriend of Kate's and a visionary who has wowed company head Mr. McBainbridge (Robert Loggia) with plans for a postmodern redesign of the network.

Worse still is the contrived crisis of conscience that erupts near the end of the film. G could go prime time, and thus ensure sky-high ratings and save Ricky's job. But Kate refuses to subject the kind traveler to any additional marketing of his spirituality. "I will not sell my soul," she declares, in a fit of righteousness.

So what, exactly, represents the wrongdoing here? Selling? Climbing the corporate ladder? Spending too much time at work? Hiring others who might not be quite right for the job? And some more questions to ponder: Will Ricky and Kate be reunited? Will G stay or go?

"Holy Man" hardly is compelling enough to make us want to stick around for the answers. Not that they weren't given away in the first act anyway.

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