Views & Reviews From Writer Steve Miller
Formerly Reviews and Stuff at Rotten Tomatoes, 2005 - 2009.

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Jesus wore spandex for our sins

Ultrachrist! (2004)
Starring: Jonathan C. Green, Jordan Hoffman, and Celia Montgomery
Director: Kerry Douglas Dye
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

At the dawn of the 21st century, Jesus the Christ (Green) returns to Earth to resume his ministry. He starts in the most sinful city on Earth--New York--but finds that no one is willing to pay attention to his message. After a marketing executive he meets in a bar convinces him he needs a flashier image, he gets a disillusioned fashion designer (Montgomery) to design and sew a spandex superhero costume for him. Thus decked out, Jesus takes to the streets to combat sin and to have New Yorkers accept him as their personal savior. But many forces stand arrayed against Jesus: The Anti-Christ conjures the ultimate evils of Hilter, Nixon, Vlad the Impaler, and Jim Morrison of The Doors to fight him, and God the Father takes offense at Jesus' new superhero image and dispatches his son's school friend Ira, the Saint of Erotic Massages and Lapdances (Hoffman) to force Jesus to take a more conservative approach to ministering to the sinful. Can even an Ultrachrist triumph against such formidable opposition?

"Ultrachrist!" is a surprisingly well-made and intelligent comedy that in the final analysis is actually pro-religion. It is an incredibly silly movie, but it manages to remain respectful to Christianity and even to Jesus, who, even as he struggles to adjust to the modern world, remains a sensitive and wise person. It never sinks to the level of mocking or belittling the figure of Jesus, but derives its humor from funny lines, mild slapstick, and "fish-out-of-water" moments, The Jesus character also also defined by near-boundless kindness and a near-total trusting and loving nature. The difference between God (manipulative and vengeful) and Jesus (trusting and forgiving) also give rise to some of the film's more intelligent moments.

While I suspect that many uptight, kneejerk Christians will take offense at the film, I think that any movie that portrays Jesus as insightful enough to figure out how to redeem even Richard Nixon. I wouldn't recommend showing this film to the church group, nor to the kids, but I think that it can be appreciated by Christians who recognize there is a disconnect between the divine and the mortal, because it's all filtered through mortals.

For examle, Jesus' response when Molly asks him about the New Testament's 'Book of Revelations', for example, is "I haven't done much reading since I've been back... and whent it was written... well, I was dead at the time." His response to learning that people have adopted the cross as a symbol of his religion is also both funny and insightful and further underscores the theme of disconnect between Jesus and mortals: "The cruxifix is the symbol of Christianity? I hated the crucifix! Ouch!"

"Ultrachrist" is one of those all-too-rare movies that show that a low budget does not equate a bad movie. While the shoestring with which the film was made is often evident, it has a razorsharp script, a cast of excellent and very funny actors, and a soundtrack score that's almost a character unto itself in the movie--it's mostly traditional-sounding Yiddish music.

The only reason I don't give "Ultrachrist!" a Nine rating is because the ending is a bit weak. They try to do the old "let's save the day by putting on a show!" ending, but they don't quite manage to pull it off. It's funny, but it was the one part of the film where my attention wandered, and I started mentally reviewing my schedule for the rest of the day.

Despite that one misstep at the very end, I recommend "Ultrachrist!" highly to lovers of quirky, intelligent comedies.

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