Holy Man [1998]

Holy Man could have been a stellar satire in the tradition of Frank Capra, George Stevens, or Preston Sturges. Instead, this well-meaning romantic comedy was bluntly written by Tom Schulman (Dead Poets Society) and broadly directed by Stephen Herek, who fared better with his 1995 drama Mr. Holland's Opus. Their good intentions shine through, however, and while it's easy to appreciate Eddie Murphy's attempt to shift his career in a more substantial direction, Holy Man delivers some pointed criticism of commercialism and its deadening effect on spiritual well-being. Murphy plays an enlightened eccentric named "G" (for "guru" or "God"?) who rises to national celebrity when he's enlisted to host a TV shopping network. Jeff Goldblum and Kelly Preston play the show's producer and marketer, respectively, and their formulaic romance provides the movie's lackluster subplot. With skyrocketing ratings and a flurry of cameos by celebrity hucksters (Morgan Fairchild, Florence Henderson, Dan Marino, and even James Brown), G delivers preachy platitudes urging America to stop buying and embrace the finer values of life and love (a hollow message coming from Disney, the most conspicuously commercial of all major Hollywood studios). To its credit, Holy Man occasionally achieves a delicate balance of comedy and commentary, and receptive viewers will be grateful, at a time when crude comedies rule the box office, that someone bothered to try. For that reason, this flawed movie deserves to be seen. --Jeff Shannon

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