Oh My God? -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

NEW YORK -- "What is God?" is the question that drives "Oh My God?", a glib, simplistic documentary from first-time director Peter Rodger. To his credit, Rodger displays no qualms about tackling a subject that has perplexed the world's greatest thinkers. Regrettably, his film adds nothing but glitz and noise to our understanding of religion.

Rodger concentrates on four faiths -- Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism -- offering observations about each and backing them up with illustrations. His approach is annoyingly scattershot, bouncing from one continent to another while pretending to find connections between, say, a rodeo in Texas and a druid ritual in England. Interview subjects range from schoolchildren to taxi drivers, with the occasional musician and B-list celebrity thrown in for ballast. The end result is a kind of whirlwind course in comparative religion with theology reduced to soundbites, pretty pictures and limp metaphors.

Capturing imagery and recording interviews do not add up to a documentary, no matter how much you swaddle them in world beat music and fancy editing. What's missing from "Oh My God?" is any sense of narrative structure, of logical debate, of intellectual curiosity.

Instead, Rodger inserts himself into the material, displaying astonishing condescension and attitudes that are borderline-racist. He plays cartoon music over a sequence of a Muslim searching for a passage in the Koran, ridicules a born-again Christian for owning a gun shop and refers to the Maasai as "colorful" people who "cut fashion figures."

What will viewers learn from the film? God means different things to different people. The concept of God has been used for both good and evil purposes. Religion has caused many wars. But the most prominent fact to emerge from the documentary: Rodger has a broad list of contacts and enough free time to travel the world to film them.

Picking apart the reasoning in "Oh My God?" doesn't require much effort, even if you are the type to take spiritual guidance from tour guides, singers and models. It's one thing to give voice to crackpots only for the opportunity to belittle them, or to bask in the glow of presences like Ringo Starr and Hugh Jackman.

When Rodger prowls the corridors of a children's cancer ward to question terminal patients about the afterlife, he crosses into disturbingly exploitive material. Poor judgment like this is the defining characteristic of "Oh My God?"

Opens: Nov. 13 (Gussi S.A., Mitropoulos Films)
Production companies: Mitropoulous Films
Director/screenwriter/producerdirector of photography: Peter Rodger
Executive producers: Horacio Altamirano, Metin Anter, Adam Krentzman
Production designers: Ek Iemchuen, Suprasit Putakham
Music: Alexander Van Bubenheim
Editors: Sarawut Nakajud, Nontakorn Taweesuk
Not rated, 98 minutes