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by Jim Wunderle

"Holy Man"

Directed by: Stephen Herek

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Jeff Goldblum, Kelly Preston

Rated: PG

Proving once again that it rarely sees a bandwagon it doesn't jump on, the Hollywood film industry has released its second "modern metaphysical" movie in as many weeks. First there was "What Dreams May Come," the sumptuous-looking film that didn't really teach us anything we didn't already know, but looked great doing it.

Now there's "Holy Man," a decidedly more low-brow approach than "What Dreams May Come," but still a film that's trying to convey a spiritual message to modern America. That message is: We spend too much money on crap.

Coming from a medium that has an ever-increasing price of production and admission and has been known to put out its share of the aforementioned offense that seems a bit ironic.

Director Stephen Herek, a staple of the Disney stable of hired hands, has given us recent films like "101 Dalmatians" and "The Mighty Ducks," but he's also delved into deeper subjects, as in "Mr. Holland's Opus." There's a supernatural side to Herek, as well, as is evident when his two heroes go back in time to learn valuable lessons from historical figures in "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure."

All in all from a Disney standpoint I suppose Herek was good choice for the sort of New Age "lite" stuff being offered in "Holy Man."

A more curious choice seems to be Eddie Murphy as the newfound guru in the film. Not exactly known for his beatific demeanor (in the movies he's been super bad cop Axel Foley; in real life he did the less than saintly "Eddie Murphy Raw") he has been trying to soften his image a bit lately and scored two "family" hits with "Dr. Doolittle" and "The Nutty Professor."

In this film, he plays a character named "G," and a lot of the criticism I've read about "Holy Man" surrounds the fact that Murphy never lets go with his patented form of screen mania.

Personally I found this a welcome relief. I never thought I'd be writing these words, but I actually believed Eddie Murphy as an "at-peace-with-himself-and-the-Universe" holy man.

As the film opens, we meet Ricky Hayman (Jeff Goldblum) a hot-shot producer at the Good Buy Shopping Network, a QVC-inspired cable TV outfit. Ricky's in trouble, though. Sales are down, the company has a new boss and Ricky's nearly broke.

To make matters worse, the new boss has brought in Kate Newell (Kelly Pres-ton) a marketing consultant with the appointed task of getting the numbers up, at any cost, even if it means Ricky gets the ax. Even worse, Kate is rather unreceptive to Ricky's less-than-subtle romantic advances.

On the way to a meeting Kate and Ricky have a flat tire and then run into, literally, a strangely calm man, dressed in pajamas who has been walking along the freeway in Miami. The man turns out to be G, and we find out he is on a "journey." A journey that, due to doctor's orders after the accident, must be postponed for a bit.

G moves in with Ricky to convalesce and shows up at GBSN one day, walks on the set and creates a major stir. Through a series of convoluted script tricks, G is offered his own GBSN show, produced by Ricky, and becomes a nationwide sensation.

Never mind that he constantly tells people they don't need this junk, sales numbers are up, and in a nod to "The Truman Show," the film wants us to believe that everyone is watching G and eating up his mellowed-out philosophy.

If they're all getting the message, why are they still buying the GBSN junk and showing up at the studio clamoring for a glimpse of G ?

As I mentioned before, I really didn't have any trouble believing Eddie Murphy as the title character. He was calm, good-humored and to the point. (No, he's no Dalai Lama, but I'm sure that was a role model here.)

What I did have trouble with were the erratic jumps in continuity, the contrived scenarios and, most importantly, the fact that the filmmakers would have us believe that any TV network, no matter how banal or crass, could actually be run in this manner.

On the other hand, I'm certainly in favor of the overall message put forth by "Holy Man," no matter how simplistic its platitudes may be. If the word gets spread through this movie, I guess Hollywood's done a good thing.

Look for silly cameos by Betty White, James Brown, Willard Scott and Morgan Fairchild.

(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)

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