"Oh, God!" now showing at area theaters is sugar-coated message comedy in which a venerable Jewish jokester God, portrayed by George Burns, takes time out from this busy schedule to make a brief benefit appearance on Earth, symbolized by Southern California.
Ever a card, God selects a nice, sincere, hard-working goyische family man, John Denver, to publicize the supposedly encouraging Word that God is alive, believes in the perfect-ability of Man and thinks we can work out all our problems if we'll just have more faith and try harder.
If one tends to slip itno show-business cliches while describing this movie, the temptation is irresistible. "Oh, God!" is the sort of inspirational placebo that could only be manufactured by complacent show people, beaming with virture at the thought of cheering up a sickly world.
"Oh, God!" is bound to strike some pick-me-up the filmmakers intended, portion of the audience as exactly the On the other hand, it's a virtually guaranteed irritant to anyone who finds Hollywood's periodic flirtations with God and other celestial celebrities a nuisance at best and an obscene spectable at worst.
Fortunately, "Oh, God!" is too pidding to break out of the nuisance class. Eveon on its won gimmicky term the theme is not exploited with much cleverness or playfulness. It's a complacently smirky little comedy, characterized by snappy exchanges in which Denver may absentmindedly mutter "Thank God" and Burns reply, "You're welcome," by a cute malapropic offspring who wonders if daddy could be suffering from "mental pause," and by Most Embarrassing Moments, like the time when Denver is too shy to setp out of the shower stall and Burns scolds him with, "You think I don't know everything you've got?!"
The movie might have been more amusing if the filmmakers had dared to get more disrespectful with both God and patsy Man or if they'd dared to acknowledge what appears to be the Jewish comic perception lurking beneath the fake optimistic surface - the feeling that goys are babes in the wood who mess things up partly because they don't realize what a cranky, arbitrary, infuriating old codger of a Creator they've dealing with.
Far from taking a chance of giving offense here and there, including Way Up - or is it Out? - There, screenwriter Larry Gelbart and director Carl Reiner seem to be playing the premise almost contemptibly safe. They put a line in God's mouth that appears to sum up their own strategy: "We're covered." It's as if they were attempting to promote jobs for themselves the day after Judgement Day as God's chekf glad-handers or yes-angels.
The filmmakers expose their hypocrisy by singling out a prosperous, unctuous fundamentalist evangelist for moral disapproval. Paul Sorvino, affecting a creamy Southern accent, subverts some of the disapproval by contributing the most entertaining performance in the show, but he can't get the filmmakers completely off the hook. They don't seem to realize that they're guilty of the same presumption they're ridiculing in the evangelist - the pretense that one has God's personal confidence and may feather one's nest by speaking in authoritative platitudes about what people must do find grace and salvation.
Denver, whose unbridled wholesomeness can get pretty icky on television, is more restrained and likable than I expected in the role of the messenger boy. I still can't imagine him as a particular adornment to the screen, but the obvious sincerity of his acting is agreeable in this context, perhaps because it reflects on the false piety of the material itself.