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'Holy Man': A Sinful Waste

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 9, 1998

  Movie Critic

Holy Man Eddie Murphy stars in the "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, Maybe. Funny, no. The best thing I can report about "Holy Man" is that it is a warm-hearted and kind of cute love story that reminds us that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world. Oh, and don't forget to stop and smell the roses. (Actually, in this version, it's the grass on your front lawn, but you get the idea.)

It's obvious what the greeting-card simplistic "Holy Man" is trying to say, but it's less clear what it's trying to be. Although occasional funny man Eddie Murphy gets top billing as a homeless, aphorism-spouting spiritualist, and Touchstone Pictures' marketing campaign certainly seems to be pitching the movie as a comedy, there just aren't many laughs in this slack dramedy, and what yuks there are are fairly low-wattage.

Murphy stars as the enigmatically named "G," a bald-headed, grinning street guru on a religious pilgrimage that happens to be taking him through Miami's posh South Beach. After stopping to offer roadside assistance to TV producers Ricky (Jeff Goldblum) and Kate (Kelly Preston), whose car has a flat tire, G mysteriously faints in the middle of the highway.

Long story short: Ricky feels guilty, takes the rambling lunatic to the hospital, pays his bill, then puts him up in his swanky apartment for a couple of weeks. Anyone would have done the same thing. (Yeah, right. Secretly he's just trying to impress Kate, the office cutie pie for whom he has the hots.) Before long – well, it actually takes about half the sluggish movie – G is wandering onto the set of the Good Buy Shopping Network, the failing infomercial channel where Ricky and Kate work.

Surprise! He wreaks havoc. However, with the exception of a hysterical scene in which he uses electrodes to stretch the cheek muscles of do-it-yourself-facelift pitchwoman Morgan Fairchild (playing herself) into a horrible grimace, the havoc is not particularly amusing. The real surprise, though, is that viewers start buying stuff, despite the fact that G's anti-materialistic philosophy encourages them not to. Go figure. At this point, "Holy Man" seems as if it wants to imitate "Network" or "The Truman Show" and say something about consumerism as religion or television as ersatz reality, but its satiric bite is toothless and random, nipping hither and yon at modern society but drawing no blood. Is G supposed to suggest God, or maybe Gandhi (whom he vaguely resembles in his white robe)? His dubious charisma consists of performing such parlor magic tricks as hypnotizing designer Nino Cerruti (playing himself) to overcome fear of flying and making a man's Rolex disappear. Hardly the Second Coming.

The only real miracle he performs is his Herculean attempt to unite Ricky and Kate who, as played by the lackluster Goldblum and Preston, have zero chemistry as a couple.

Murphy does get off a couple of good, if sophomoric, lines ("I wept when I met a man who had no shoes, and then I met a man who had no penis."). Like "Dr. Dolittle," however, his prodigious talents are once again wasted in an overly earnest role that forces him more often to play straight man to a bunch of dull sidekicks.

"You're a very funny man," says G to Ricky, near the film's flat conclusion.

If only that were true.


© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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