Faith hell

So, there's a rabbi and a priest...wait, stop me if you've heard this one

But Norton and screenwriter Stuart Blumberg ruin that scene, undercutting the tension with limp jokes. "I feel like I'm in some Aaron Spelling show," Brian mutters through tears. "Melrose Priest." The echo you hear is the laugh-track machine, broken down in the corner. And Brian is too often reduced to set dressing, the third wheel cut loose for long stretches of time. We see Jake delivering sermon after sermon, teaching bar mitzvah classes, and generally Jewing out in scene after scene, while Brian is reduced to confessing his love for Anna to Father Havel (Milos Forman, slumming it). The whole movie belongs to Stiller, who offers up yet another irritating variation on the sole character he seems capable of playing: himself.

Perhaps Norton simply had difficulty balancing his roles as actor and director; certainly, he stumbles over the latter. He has no sense of comedic timing, no feel for pacing. Scenes don't end; they just stop, stranding stale punch lines in the ether. Even when the film stumbles across a nifty bit, Norton wrings the life out of it until the comedy falls limp on the concrete; the jokes should be cordoned off with police tape. When, early on, Jake tries to convince Brian and Anna to join him on a double date, Brian breaks out in a dead-on impression of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, repeating phrases in a deadpan drone. It's a brief but effective gag, a respite in a comedy that takes itself so seriously, but Norton repeats the shtick over and over until he finally becomes an annoyance. Stiller then taps in the final nail by actually referring to Brian as Rain Man, in case the audience is too stupid (or, perhaps, too sleepy) to catch on to the reference. You might feel condescended to, if that knot of pity weren't in the way.

And Norton plays every scene too broadly, too loudly; you expect everyone to break into song at the end of every scene -- which they actually do a couple of times. (Indeed, the film ends with a scene set in an interfaith karaoke coffee bar for seniors, where Barry Manilow's "Ready to Take a Chance Again," the love theme from Foul Play, coos over the loud speakers. Really, not making this up.) In the end, the film's point is so clear, you can see right through it: Hey, guess what, it's possible for Jews and Catholics to get along! They can even love each other, in the most biblical sense!

The God Squad and their girlfriend: Ben Stiller, Jenna Elfman, and Ed Norton skip to the ludicrous.
The God Squad and their girlfriend: Ben Stiller, Jenna Elfman, and Ed Norton skip to the ludicrous.

Details

Starring Ben Stiller, Jenna Elfman, Edward Norton, Anne Bancroft, Eli Wallach, and Milos Forman

Release Date:
April 14

Official site

Release Date:
April 14

Directed by Edward Norton

Written by Stuart Blumberg

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