When it comes to religious satires, there’s basically two camps. First, there’s the Monty Python path forged by the unforgettable ‘Life of Brian.’ More a movie about the ridiculousness of fundamentalist belief than any real attack on God or His Son, it remains the defining moment of a relatively small subgenre. Then there is the ‘Dogma’ approach, Kevin Smith’s ribald revisiting of his Catholic upbringing. Content to critique as well as embrace his lapsed beliefs, it stands as a solid follow-up to what the Pythons proved. Other than those two examples, it’s hard to find other memorable mockeries. A few – ‘Saved!,’ ‘The Ten’ – have tried to tweak conventional offerings into Jesus-inspired jokefests, but for the most part, the results are as uneven as a Sunday Sermon.
So it’s refreshing to see something like ‘Rapture-palooza‘ work, and work well. Sure, it’s silly and infantile, and obsessed with sex, but what do you expect from a comedy circa 2013? The story centers on a young couple, Lindsey (Anna Kendrick) and her boyfriend Ben (John Francis Daley) who manage to “survive” Judgment Day, meaning they are not called to Heaven when the Rapture arrives.
Living on Earth with prickly parents (Ana Gasteyer and John Michael Higgins for her, Rob Corddry for him) and a succession of plagues, wraiths, and other Biblical burdens, they hope to open a food stand to feed the remaining population. But when the Antichrist, who called himself “The Beast” (Craig Robinson) starts fixating on Lindsey, the duo refer to the Good Book for the best way to destroy him.
And thus we have the premise for a mountain of mammary jokes, more booty quips than a stand-up proctologist, and a plethora of F-bombs and other scatological lines. Screenwriter Chris Matheson (perhaps best known for collaborating with Ed Solomon on the iconic ’80s hit ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’) uses foul language and toilet humor to explore the realities of life under the Devil, delivering enough potent one-liners to save us from some inconsistent adlibbing by the actors. For his part, director Paul Middleditch does a lot with his limited budget, providing just enough post-apocalyptic awe to make a Seattle under siege seem like the end of the world. Sure, there are elements that don’t work (the potheaded minions of The Beast are rather one note) but for the most part, ‘Rapture-palooza’ offers a lot of good, goofy stuff.
The whole premise is primed for a comic knock-off (and there’s another one coming down the mainstream popcorn pipes in a few days) and the opening credit sequence shows us just how powerful a full blown Revelations based event would be. But Middleditch can’t really do more than infer. The “Suffer!” spewing locusts end up being one decent F/X but the profanity proficient crows that fly around are obvious stock footage with ADR voices added in. Even the rain of blood is not that impressive, and this is Seattle. We do get the occasional vistas of a city under siege (burning buildings, a Space Needle in shambles) but for the most part, this is an epic scaled down to deliver a non-stop barrage of burlesque.
What it doesn’t do is skewer the sacred. Indeed, ‘Rapture-palooza’ leaves God almost completely out of the mix for so long that when he finally arrives to see what happened to his best laid four thousand year old plans, it’s a bit off putting. It’s like a last minute brainstorm on how to end the otherwise rambling finale. As Robinson kills it time and time again, Kendrick and Daley just tread water, waiting for something to save them. Throughout the first half of the film, they are fine – determined without being braggarts, cunning where cleverness is in short supply. But by the third act, when they’ve come up with the plan to lock the Antichrist away for 1000 years (in an inescapable dog kennel – go figure), they appear to be going through the motions.
Some of the supporting characters are equally mistreated. Corddry is always good for a laugh, but his lame lackey for The Beast’s every wish goes nowhere. And why have “little Beast” if all he’s going to do is whine? Similarly, the whole “God sent you back” concept concerning Lindsey’s mom is an unexplored angle that could have given things a real twist. Our heroine’s dope dealing brother is also nothing more than a white rapper cliche and all of The Beast’s bodyguards are culled from the mall cop school of satire. Every once in a while, something will click (like Thomas Lennon’s undead neighbor who wants nothing more than to…mow his lawn) and we get a few funny sight gags (big boulders tend to drop on things at inappropriate times), but for the most part, this is a character driven piece. Luckily, the leads enliven the material.
It seems strange that the Summer of 2013 would see not one, not two, but at least a half dozen movies focusing on the last days of man on Earth. We’ve already had the serious sci-fi of ‘Oblivion‘ and ‘After Earth‘, and along with ‘This is the End‘ and ‘The World’s End,’ comedy will be represented as well. ‘Rapture-palooza’ falls easily into that latter category, not as accomplished as it could have been but still witty enough to warrant consideration. It doesn’t really deal with religion as much as using the Bible as a backdrop to the typical R-rated comedy tropes. Some will be amused. Others might be bored. Few will be offended. Like we said, when it comes to satires of the sacred, there’s ‘Life of Brian’ and ‘Dogma.’ That’s about it. ‘Rapture-palooza’ can’t compete with those classics, but it’s no fundamentalist flop either.