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Beyond Redemption

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 9, 1998

  Movie Critic

Holy Man Eddie Murphy stars in "Holy Man." (Touchstone)

Stephen Herek
Eddie Murphy;
Jeff Goldblum;
Kelly Preston;
Jon Cryer;
Robert Loggia
Running Time:
1 hour, 54 minutes
Parental guidance suggested

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"Holy Man," a perfunctory Eddie Murphy comedy on the same wavelength as "Network" and "Scrooged," comes with a warning: TV is poisoning our psyches, usurping our time, separating us from our families, God and the great outdoors, and so forth and so on.

Couch potatoes will surely fry in Hell and channel surfers will drown in the next flood if we don't pull the plug. Somebody should alert the media, but they're part of the problem, as this toothless satire about lust, deceit and home shopping so halfheartedly details.

Tom Schulman's script is on the sloppy side and offers few surprises; still, it's not entirely bereft of laughs. Much of the credit for this goes to Murphy and Jeff Goldblum, as the daffy guru and his spiritually bankrupt foil.

Ricky Hayman (Goldblum) is a mid-level executive at the Good Buy Shopping Network (GBSN), which foists useless gadgets, bogus beauty products and zircon baubles on the insecure, the lonely and the taste-impaired.

Sales have been in the cellar for 27 months, no matter how many celebrity MIAs are hired to hawk the junk. Though it is hard to believe there is no market for the Hood Buddy (a kind of car-powered casserole dish for commuters) or the James Brown Soul Survivors System (a safety device that screams out, "Help me, help me, good God!").

In any case, Ricky finds himself in desperate straits when the network is taken over by the evil Mr. McBainbridge (Robert Loggia), who gives him an ultimatum: Sales must go up in two weeks. Or else.

Faced with losing his job and his glamorous lifestyle, Ricky hires the mysterious G (Murphy), a genial, footloose mahatma he meets while changing a flat on a crowded highway. Eventually G wanders onto the GBSN set and then on camera. Ricky recognizes talent when he sees it and in a matter of days, G develops a fanatical following as a televangelist. Sales and ratings go through the roof and the media is all over him like mold on brie.

Ricky realizes that he's wrong to involve his friend in this materialistic world, and he's about send him on his way when the diabolical McBainbridge (the exact color and shape of a rotisserie chicken) makes one last bid for Ricky's immortal soul. Will he accept the Faustian deal?

Murphy, that impish smile ever present, always seems on the verge of dropping the other sandal. It's the sole source of suspense in this obvious undertaking.

Stephen Herek, the director who put the schmaltz into "Mr. Holland's Opus" and took the bark out of the live-action "101 Dalmatians," does a little of both to "Holy Man." There was promise in the premise: Shopping via television is for many people a religious experience. But the point got lost in platitudes like "You never feel more whole than when you love another person."

Now where did that clicker get to, anyway?


© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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