Directed by Stephen Herek. Starring Eddie Murphy, Jeff Goldblum, Kelly Preston, Robert Loggia, Jon Cryer, Eric McCormack. (1998, PG, 113 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 9, 1998
All the advance signs looked discouraging, but I still kept thinking: How bad could a comedy starring Eddie Murphy and Jeff Goldblum really be? Well, let's put it this way … you won't ever hear me asking that particular question again. The more-often-brilliant-than-not Murphy and Goldblum have both hit new career nadirs in this tedious, unfunny comedy about a slumping shopping-network TV channel in Miami that hires a freelance guru to boost its sales. The set-up offers what seems to be potentially sharp-edged opportunities for satire of our modern mercenary media and national desire for belief -- whether it be the quest for a spiritual higher plane or faith in the power of material things to improve our lot in life -- yet the film manages to skirt all its keen potential and mire itself in prosaic boy-meets-girl-and-kooky-sidekick plot machinations. Ultimately, the ascetic approach may work best with Holy Man -- eliminate its consumption from your life plan and your burden will be lifted, my friends. Goldblum plays the part of Ricky Hayman, a top executive at the Good Buy Shopping Network (GBSN). He's a craven, soulless, and moderately powerful paragon of modern life who harbors contempt for the products he hawks as well as the lovely models he dates. But Ricky's job is hanging by a thread, and he must prove his mettle to the station's new owner (Loggia) and his pert new media analyst Kate Newell (Preston). Enter the mysterious “holy man” named G (Murphy), a pilgrim who first appears to him by the side of the highway. G attaches himself to Ricky like Marlowe's Ghost, here on a mission to guide Ricky toward the real meaning of life. Or maybe he's just a crazy scam artist who spouts vaguely spiritual feel-good aphorisms. The script by Tom Shulman (who found success early in his career with an Oscar win for his second screenplay, Dead Poets Society, but has recently hit the skids with such monumental clunkers as Medicine Man and 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag) is woefully shopworn and predictable and brimming with implausibilities. The stars evidence no chemistry whatsoever, either with the characters they are playing or with each other. Murphy underplays his comic mannerisms, as if in deference to the belief that he is indeed playing a holy man. Goldblum, as is usual, conveys a thinking man's twitchiness but you suspect his eyes are just darting about madly in search of the exit signs. As a couple, Goldblum and Preston give off no real sparks; their leap from animosity to passion is barely noticeable. Amplifying the film's lackadaisical attitude is its poorly conceived compositions that awkwardly cut characters off at the forehead, as if the filmmakers didn't know how to accommodate Goldblum's tall stature. Holy Man needs to be sent on a retreat.