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Archive for Thursday, October 15, 1998

S THE PITCH

October 15, 1998

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``Holy Man,'' starring Eddie Murphy as a generic beacon of non-denominational kindness, is a few prayers short of enlightenment.

A strange thing happens as the new Eddie Murphy vehicle ``Holy Man'' unfolds on screen.

Despite a directionless, bumper-sticker premise (``Buy too much, sell your soul''), confused characters and a complete lack of narrative rhythm, ``Holy Man'' kind of, sort of, almost manages to hold you in its grasp.

Something about its herky-jerky, channel-flipping feel proves an unintentionally effective undercurrent for what this flick is trying to be -- an aphorism-filled, generic kind of awakening for the information age taking place on (yes, you heard correctly) a home shopping network.

But somewhere in the second half of the film -- after subplots are abandoned like biohazards and a peripheral romance between media execs played by Jeff Goldblum and Kelly Preston takes center screen -- ``Holy Man'' loses us. And itself.

Director Stephen Herek (the craftsman behind the touching if overly sentimental ``Mr. Holland's Opus'') and screenwriter Tom Schulman find themselves adrift in a sea of drippy New Age koans and pointless on-air sketches.

The end result leaves viewers feeling shallow and guilty for having indulged in ever buying a ticket, like a late-night QVC watcher placing a phone order for a string of cubic zirconia or a ceramic poodle. It's an impulse buy, and there are no refunds.

Goldblum plays Ricky Hayman, a smug, self-absorbed and somewhat paranoid television salesman who organizes the on-air products for the fictional, Miami-based Good Buy Shopping Network (GBSN). Just as you would expect from a Goldblum character, Hayman charmingly stutters through sometimes funny dialogue and stares doe-eyed at everyone between lines.

Hayman's dilemma can be summed up thusly: There's a new sheriff in town -- network head McBainbridge, as played by a red-faced Robert Loggia -- who has given Hayman two weeks to turn sales around or he's out of a job.

As a cattleprod, McBainbridge brings in media analyst Kate Newell (Preston), an Ivy League grad who, for the sake of light romantic movie convention, spars vigorously with Hayman.

Moviegoers, you can guess what's next: The two reluctantly fall for each other, one turns tail when the other sells out, then everything reverts to warm squishiness when the wrongs are righted.

But wait, what about this G. person?

In the throes of dipping sales and viewer numbers, Kate and Ricky are zooming down a Miami highway in Ricky's nearly repossessed convertible when a tire blows out. G. (Murphy) appears in the median, kissing the ground and waving at the worked up duo. ``Are you in need of my help?'' G. asks wanly, a beatific smile plastered across his angelic face.

Of course they are. Why else would an Eddie Murphy character have shown up out of nowhere (notwithstanding his almighty ``journey'')?

And sorry to belabor the point here, but you can guess what happens next (partially because you've seen all the previews): G. inevitably visits Ricky and Kate at the studio, sneaks on camera, spouts his strange, non-denominational wisdom, wreaks absolute havoc and proceeds to sell the heck out of everything that goes on screen with him.

Then we're imparted with the standard ``mass media ruin of a sweetheart'' thing as the spotlight begins to drain G. of his energy, his charisma, his ... hold it! If we're supposed to think our spiritual navigator is losing his mind, why does he still look so darn happy? And if G. supposedly operates on a higher plane, how does he know as much about the dimensions of Baywatch Babes as he does about the Dalai Lama?

One more thing, and this is a big one: If G. has been dispatched to help Ricky and Kate find themselves and each other, as we are led to believe, then why does the spiritual guru lend himself to the hawking of worthless merchandise and the fostering of commercial-emotional dependency of thousands out there in America?

It's as if our ``Holy Man'' doesn't give a whit about the masses at all, a fact the various religious leaders vying to claim his beliefs as their own don't even acknowledge.

And that, my friend, is the scariest of New Age philosophies: That only the wealthy, successful and beautiful, like Hollywoodites and TV personalities, are capable of soul-deep revelation.

Take a hike, G.

-- Matt Gowen is a full-time reporter for the Journal-World.

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