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‘The Pope Must Die’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 30, 1991

Devout Catholics will no doubt find heresy in British filmmaker Peter Richardson's "The Pope Must Die." Everybody else will simply shrug it off as a meek satire that hurls not irreverent gibes but piety in the face of Vatican power brokers. A King Ralphian tale of a simple priest who is mistakenly anointed Pope Dave, the movie favors such reforms as marriage for priests, female clergy and the redistribution of moneys.

Scottish comedian Robbie Coltrane plays the Rev. Dave Albinizi, a jolly priest whose unorthodoxy -- he plays rock guitar and fixes old cars -- costs him his position at a remote Italian orphanage. About the same time in Vatican City, a deaf secretary incorrectly records the name of the newly selected Pope Albini as Albinizi, and all of a sudden everybody is kneeling at Dave's feet and kissing his hand. Now that's comedy.

As in "Godfather III," the story line accuses the Vatican Bank of unscrupulous, mob-related connections. Only there's no real fury behind the scenario, which includes shady dealings among the smarmy Cardinal Rocco (Alex Rocco), his underworld partner, Vittorio Corelli (Herbert Lom) and the prissy Monsignor Vitchie (Paul Bartel). Certain that they can manipulate the roly-poly new pontiff, they are in for some surprise when Dave discovers something fishy, and it isn't just holy mackerel, in the corridors of the Vatican.

The performances, including one by Beverly D'Angelo as the mother of a dying rock singer, are competent for the most part, but they seem disconnected from this Capraesque story. Bartel and Rocco would be wickedly funny if they weren't working in a kind of cosmic comic vacuum, but they are like separate candles sputtering in the sanctum. Coltrane, who last starred in the British drag comedy "Nuns on the Run," has apparently gotten into the rather unfortunate habit of masquerading in vestments. But then the British always did think men in skirts were a laugh riot.

"The Pope Must Die," directed by Richardson from a script he wrote with Pete Richens, is little more than a political drag show. It's hardly a cardinal sin but nevertheless is devoutly to be avoided.

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