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Review: "What Would Jesus Buy?"

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 29, 2007 7:16PM

2007_11wwjb.jpg It's part of our national schizophrenia as Americans. Every year we bemoan the exploitation of Christmas, and every year we spend more and more money that we really don't have to buy crap to give to each other "in the spirit of the season." There's a great movie to be made about the overcommercialization of Christmas; What Would Jesus Buy? is not exactly that movie, but it still offers a lot of food for thought along with some snark.

The documentary follows Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping as they embark on a cross-country tour of righteous disruption, staging protests at malls and shopping centers via megaphone preaching and the singing of Shopocalypse hymns such as "Starbucks and Disney." Rev. Billy, a wacky cross between Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Carrey, is actually performance artist Bill Tallen, who invented the character in an attempt to make us confront the bloated excess of spending that occurs every holiday season.

The gold standard of Christmas satire is still Stan Freberg's "Green Chri$tma$." It's dead on target, scathing, inventive and it doesn't let the audience off the hook. WWJB? takes the easy way out by having various talking heads soft-pedal messages of family and togetherness; and it minimizes our discomfort during the protest sequences by chopping each one into little, easily-digestible bits and stripping away context. The Christmas Day march down Disneyland's Main Street at the end ought to be a climax. But instead of letting the discomfort build, highlighting nervous Magic Kingdom guests, the movie mostly shows us Rev. Billy and his entourage quickly being whisked away.

Nevertheless it's an earnest piece of work that does have several hilarious moments, including an attempted exorcism at Wal-Mart's headquarters in Arkansas and a spirited parade through the Mall of America. And scenes of bratty kids ripping into their loot on Christmas morning after their parents have previously discussed maxxing out their credit cards can't help but make you cringe. According to a statistic in the film, 75% of us view the holidays with dread. But the dark humor of WWJB? (and some spiked egg nog) can help us ho, ho, ho a little more.

What Would Jesus Buy? opens this weekend; Rev. Billy will be present at tomorrow's 7:00 and 10:15 screenings at the Landmark Century.