Oh my god, he's electrocuting Morgan Fairchild!
"Holy Man" is not what you expect.
You are attracted into the theater by Touchstone Picture's marketing program built entirely around Eddie Murphy's comedic star presence. The trailers have shown some funny bits with stars Jeff Goldblum ("The Lost World") and Kelly Preston ("Jerry Maguire") playing second fiddle to Murphy's hilarious antics. Must be another zany Eddie Murphy comedy in the vein of "The Nutty Professor" or "Dr. Doolittle", right?
So you sit down in the plush seats of your local multiplex, surrounded by hundreds of other like-minded individuals who are expecting lots of laughs. The theater darkens and "Holy Man" unspools. However, about fifteen minutes in, you suddenly realize that this movie isn't as funny as you expected. And when Murphy finally does show up, he's not his usual over-the-top self. Hmmm... must be one of those bad Eddie Murphy movies, like "Metro" or "The Golden Child".
But wait... the movie seems to be a satire on television. And the wide-eyed innocence of Murphy's character is being used to hawk the wares of a home shopping television channel. If Murphy's performance is restrained, and this movie is a satire on televised commercialism... ah-ha! It's "The Truman Show" all over again!
It started so simply, and now it's a big production.
However, as the movie progresses, the tone becomes increasingly grim, and the musical score is creating an atmosphere of foreboding. Maybe this movie is a tragic cautionary tale about the fragile nature of idealism, much like the fatalistic "Network" or "Bulworth".
But wait a second... as the third act kicks into high gear, it seems that the Eddie Murphy character is not as ill-fated as he looks. And the romance subplot has now kicked into high gear. Maybe this was a romantic-comedy.
The difference is that G would do this for free.
Who knows? "Holy Man" suffers from a really bad case of multiple personality disorder. Those expecting a silly diversion with scatological humor will be disappointed. Instead, "Holy Man" is a poignant feel-good tale about a man allowing himself to be ruled by his heart, instead of his head. Unfortunately, you have to put up with the slow-pacing, flat material, and strained acting in the first hour to get to the payoff.
Ricky (Goldblum) and Kate (Preston) are two execs employed by the Good Buy Shopping Network (GBSN), and their malevolent boss (Robert Loggia of "Lost Highway") has them under the gun to boost the company's lagging sales. After their car gets a flat on a Miami freeway, an enigmatic man calling himself 'G' (Murphy) offers his assistance. Before you know it, this kind stranger winds up on the set of GBSN and his presence raises all sorts of ruckus, much to the chagrin of Ricky.
If you launch this, and if you make it work, then everything... everything you ever dreamed about will be yours.
However, GBSN's viewers immediately take a liking to this shaman with the New Age sales pitch, and he becomes a pop-culture icon. Paradoxically, despite G's messages asking viewers to discard their material aspirations and to take pleasure in the simple things of life, GBSN sales revenues go up. Of course, this is good for the station, and even better for Ricky and Kate's careers. But the higher G's star rises, the more Ricky's conscience begins to gnaw at him. Which, of course, brings him to the inevitable dilemma of choosing between what is best for his career, and what is best for his new friend, G.
As I mentioned earlier, "Holy Man" starts off as one movie, and ends up being a better one. The longer I sat through this movie, the more I found myself liking it. Despite Murphy having top billing, this movie actually is actually about Goldblum's character and his struggle to be content in his life. G serves only as the catalyst for this change, and the strong point of the third act is watching Ricky wrestle with his displaced loyalties, and discovering his true feelings for Kate.
You never feel more whole and right when you love another person... and when that person loves you back.
Now before I continue gushing, there are significant problems with the rest of the movie. Goldblum babbles incessantly throughout the movie, and though it helps to show his character's insecurities, it is distracting and detracts from the poignant atmosphere that director Stephen Herek ("Mr. Holland's Opus") was attempting to create. And though she did have her moments, Preston is not completely successful as the love interest, and her stilted acting is difficult to watch, particularly in the first hour. Murphy's kinder and gentler role, despite a few interesting bits of elocution, comes off as little more than a dull, though affable, dispenser of wisdom. The rest of the cast is rounded out by a number of celebrity cameos, including Morgan Fairchild, Soupy Sales, Florence Henderson, and James Brown. Unfortunately, these potential 'gee-whiz' moments are wasted with some very unfunny material.
Finally, what is perhaps the greatest problem with "Holy Man"-- as a comedy, it is not very funny. As a satire, it does not go far enough to expose the machinations of commercial exploitation, and seems to lose its way thematically on more than one occasion. As a romantic-comedy, the romance is awkwardly inserted, as though it were an after-thought. Finally, as a feel-good cautionary tale, it barely earns itself a good rating from being dragged down by the film's muddled narrative and comedic misfires.
As I said in the beginning, "Holy Man" is not what you expect.