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For the Bible Tells Me So, Weirdsville: Redemption songs

Two films look at sex, drugs and religion

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The evangelicals and the academics go head-to-head in For the Bible Tells Me So, director Daniel Karslake's worthwhile documentary about how the religious right has co-opted the good book for its own bad practices.

Karslake's film opens with outspoken gay-basher Anita Bryant getting a public pie in the face to illustrate the ugly battle between fundamentalists and gay Americans. That slightly out-of-date gay nemesis sets the terms of a film that could just have easily come out of the culture wars of the '80s. But if For the Bible Tells Me So proves anything, it is that homophobia is still deeply entrenched in American culture. Honing in on the role of religious zealots in fostering anti-gay sentiment, Karslake's film is an impassioned plea for tolerance and a sustained rebuttal to conservatives' embrace of the Bible to serve their own agenda.

Perhaps the most persuasive dimension to the film is the real families, many of them serious Bible thumpers themselves, who have dealt compassionately with the gay kids in their midst. The families range from the deeply religious, African-American Poteat family, whose patriarch once begged God not to let his son turn out gay or his daughter turn out a "slut." In answer to his prayers, God made his daughter Tonia a lesbian.

The pious Southern Baptist Robinson family has a baby named Gene whom doctors predict will be paralyzed. Their prayers are answered when he grows up healthy, and goes on to become the first gay Episcopal bishop. The Robinsons' tear-choked gratitude provides a welcome antidote in the film to the hate-spewing of religious figureheads such as Jimmy Swaggart, who is shown at one point describing the homicidal impulses gay men provoke in him.

Also interviewed are a family of Minnesota Lutherans, the Reitans, who have become politicized by having a gay son; a woman, Mary Lou Wallner, who suffered a terrible price for not accepting her gay daughter; and former Congressman Richard Gephardt, who offered his gay daughter Chrissy the kind of unconditional love that counters blind religious hate.

The families in For the Bible Tells Me So are often radically transformed both personally and politically when their children reveal their sexual orientation. Some of the most touching moments come when families are able to overcome their own often deeply ingrained religious prejudices to accept their children and in some cases even advocate for gay acceptance.

But Karslake attacks religious-based homophobia on not just the home front, but on a macro level. A number of Ivy League theologians, a reform rabbi and even Archbishop Desmond Tutu also weigh in on the biblical passages that some claim denounce homosexuality. Most challenge the interpretation of the Bible by the exceedingly literal-minded who discount context, history and the ambiguity of the text in countering the book's "message" of anti-homosexuality.

WEEDSVILLE IS A town in Ontario with a population of drug addicts, Satanists, rich hippies, hookers and midget medieval re-enactors. Some smart aleck has graffitied the town's sign to read "Weirdsville," and that name proves fitting. It is, in other words, a place where Terry Gilliam, but very few others, might enjoy a brief respite.

Groomed to scruffy perfection with their droopy mustaches and artfully studied razor stubble, hottie addicts Dexter (Scott Speedman) and Royce (Wes Bentley) are the kind of hyper-actualized, very busy addicts the independent cinema has embraced since that narco gold standard, Drugstore Cowboy. The pair contend over the course of director Allan Moyle's dark comedy with OD'd hookers, preppie Satanists and a heist gone terribly wrong. Free-range oddity abounds, from the sight of a midget mall security guard getting medieval on the Satanists, to an Eastern European crime boss who plays the Canadian sport of curling when he's not threatening to break thumbs. Though filled to the rafters with such oddball types and scenarios, Weirdsville is less inspired than the scumbags and losers who have defined so much of its Coen Brothers oeuvre.

In the tradition of comic couples from Beavis and Butthead to Cheech and Chong, Dexter and Royce's adventures often have a chemically altered rhythm of exhilarating highs and doldrums lows. There are many funny moments strung together in some semblance of a plot line. The third wheel who helps Dexter and Royce in their various efforts to rob a wealthy New Age guru's safe and outwit a group of well-dressed Satanists is a hooker named Mattie (Taryn Manning). It's a mark of this film's lack of originality that Manning, who performed so admirably as a whore with a heart of gold in Hustle & Flow, returns as a hooker in this one.

Though some of the snarky banter between the brain-dead Royce, who in his spare time hatches big plans for sprayable mayonnaise and tobacco-laced tea bags, and his cynical pal Dexter are amusing, for the most part Weirdsville offers a strained, directionless brand of fun.

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