DVD to offer good, clean laughs

10/3/2006

By Phil Boatwright 

Thou Shalt Laugh
Stars: Patricia Heaton, Thor Ramsey, Jeff Allen, Teresa Roberts, Joby Saad, Gilbert Esquivel and Taylor Mason
Available Nov. 7 on DVD

In an era when laughs are so often mined from anatomical and scatological riffs, here comes a refreshing and funny alternative. Thou Shalt Laugh is a new DVD featuring humorous observations by several stand-up comedians who share more than just the ability to tickle the funny bone – these folks are also Christians.   

Produced by Hunt Lowry and Jonathan Bock (CEO of Grace Hill Media) and taped at the Faith Community Church in Southern California, those featured on the DVD release are gifted with whimsical observations and the knack of making us laugh while also making us think. 

Ramsey is first up, being introduced by the evening’s hostess, Heaton of Everybody Loves Raymond fame. Ramsey pokes fun at the stereotypes people have about Christians and has fun with our pop culture. Like his comrades in comedy, he constantly catches audiences off guard with humor found in everyday experiences.

Allen is next up. Allen has been doing comedy for over 20 years, and his work has been seen on every cable comedy show in the U.S., including Comedy Central’s Premium Blend and VH-1’s Standup Spotlight. A one-time victim of alcohol and drug abuse, he turned to Alcoholics Anonymous, and, through generous help from a total stranger, found comfort in God. 

“The single greatest gift I get from my relationship with Jesus is peace. For the first time in my life, I am at peace in my own skin. From that peace, I am able to do what I love to do – make people laugh,” he says. 

The edgy, yet likable Roberts is the one woman on the lineup. “I never think of myself as a ‘Christian comedian,’ any more than an accountant would call herself a ‘Christian accountant.’ A Christian is what I am. I’m a comedian who’s a Christian. And I’m thankful for the opportunity, wherever He takes me, to bring messages, and to make people laugh. Sometimes, even when I mean to,” she said.  

Saad is known for his Jerry Lewis-like facial expressions and rubbery physicality. Joby combines dance, music, zinging one-liners, and mime. Esquivel shares anecdotes from growing up and traveling across the United States. He also has a keen sensibility for comedy found in cultural differences. Mason closes the 90-some minute show. He uses puppets and ventriloquism. He has headlined every major comedy club in the country, is regularly featured on The Disney Cruise Line, and has created the children’s television show, Taylor’s Attic. 

Thou Shalt Laugh is insightful, edifying and very funny.

Open Season
Voices: Martin Lawrence, Ashton Kutcher, Debra Messing, Gary Sinise
Directors: Roger Allers and Jill Culton
Rating: PG 

This animated action-adventure comedy concerns the upsetting of a tame grizzly bear’s tranquil world. Boog (Lawrence) saves Elliot (Kutcher), a fast-talking one-antlered deer, from a hunter. Trying to return the favor, Elliot attempts to free Boog from his idyllic existence, only to have things quickly spiral out of control. The two suddenly find themselves relocated to the wild…just three days before open season.  

Open Season also fits into the hit-and-miss category. There are some funny quips and visuals, but it feels like everybody ran out of steam – and all at the same time. It’s the umpteenth animated film I’ve sat through this year. Cars and Over the Hedge were terrific, but so many were made simply because of the success of other animated films. Some must think that it’s the animation audiences love. Maybe that’s so for little ones, but we big kids are mesmerized by cleverness (Toy Story, Beauty and the Beast, The Incredibles).

There were some laughs, but there is no sharp wit or satire in Open Season. It’s funny at times, coarse at others, but mostly it merely takes up time, much the way an empty box does for a toddler. 

Man of the Year
Stars: Robin Williams, Christopher Walken, Laura Linney, Jeff Goldblum, Lewis Black
Director: Barry Levinson
Rating: PG-13

Acerbic performer Tom Dobbs (Williams) has made his career out of skewering politicians and speaking the mind of the exasperated nation on his talk show. After a flip comment, Dobbs ignites a grassroots movement that puts him on the ballot.

Dobbs wins — only to learn that a computer voting error gave him the victory.  

An employee (Linney) of a new computer company that tallies the votes has discovered a glitch. She goes to the owner a few days before the election, but this is not information he wants released. So his minions destroy her reputation and even attempt to kill her before she can make the public aware. No one will believe her – except maybe Dobbs.   

While Linney does a credible job, the company’s attempts to quiet her switch between brutality and far-fetched ridiculousness. Meanwhile, she makes her way into Dobbs’s inner core group. Suddenly, she’s going paint-ball hunting and spending Thanksgiving with him. A newly elected president is in the woods, playing this rather bizarre game with people in masks pointing guns at him. I guess the scene was meant to express his child-like, anti-political nature. It’s just silly, not to mention implausible. 

This film is too smug as it berates the political system. Too smug and too crude.  Williams all too often resorts to sophomoric crude sexual humor. The result: you can’t help but feel you’re being preached to by Howard Stern.