Silverman lacks the ‘magic’ 

‘Jesus Is Magic’ falls flat; ‘Hostel’ works as a terrifying torture flick.

NO POLISH: "Silverman."
  • NO POLISH: "Silverman."

I love — have always loved, it seems — standup comedy. My family was one of those that counted having a great sense of humor as somewhere just short of being rich, thin and beautiful; that is, a rare gift of God.

My house as a kid was full of comedy: Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor, a threadbare copy of Lenny Bruce’s “How to Talk Dirty and Influence People.” My family — my extended family; aunts, uncles, mother, father, grandparents — shared ownership of about a half dozen horrible cassette-tape copies of the late Bill Hicks doing standup, swapping them among us like baseball cards.

So, you can understand how excited I was when I heard Sarah Silverman’s stand-up film “Jesus Is Magic” was coming to Market Street Cinema last week. I like Silverman. Too, if there’s anything l love more than standup, it’s the old-timey idea of a standup comedy movie — a throwback to the glory days when men were men and Woody Allen could tell jokes about falsies.

The problem is, even though I was so pumped about seeing it that I probably would have laughed at video of puppies getting squashed by a steamroller, “Jesus Is Magic” is not funny in the least. OK, there are a few chuckles, but none of the gales of laughter you expect from good comedy. There were about five others in the theater with me (good biz for Market Street on a rainy Monday afternoon) and they weren’t laughing either.

The problem, it occurred to me later, is that while good comedy is more about the audience than the performer — about seeing our own faults and failures in the comedian’s observations and wit — Silverman’s act is all about her; specifically the idea that, because she is kindergarten-teacher-cute, she can say anything vulgar (sexually vulgar I love… I’m talking about racially vulgar, politically vulgar, historically vulgar) and people will laugh. Just call her “Jenny Bruce.”

Though the musical numbers that stitch together the standup bits in the film are funny (especially her “Jewish People Driving German Cars,” and the part where her mouth, butt and vagina sing three-part harmony on “Amazing Grace”), everything else is meant to shock the hell out of the audience. After awhile, you get numb to Silverman’s prodding and start looking at your watch.

In short, while I’m sure turtleneck-wearing Boho-types will find “Jesus is Magic” daring, subtle and edgy, most fans of standup — weaned on Eddie Murphy and Dave Chappelle — will just be wondering why they paid six bucks (the matinee price) to watch Silverman do her impression of a grade-school class clown saying “turds” to make her classmates titter. If it’s subtle, it’s way too subtle for me.

An interesting trend in movie horror in the past few years has been the return of the torture flick. Big in the 1970s, the subcategory has come back with a vengeance in the wake of 9/11, playing on the universal fear of the VBPD: the Very Bad and Painful Death.

The newest of these is “Hostel,” by pulp filmmaker Eli Roth. Gory, bloody and outright terrifying, it’s one of those films that plays on the very real idea that there are places in the world where perfectly nice people can just slip off the edge of the map, where there be monsters.

Jay Hernandez plays Paxton, a lusty college kid backpacking with his friends Josh (Derek Richardson) and Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson) through Europe. In an Amsterdam pot bar, they meet Alex (Lubomir Silharecky), who tells them of a secretive Slovakian hostel, stocked with beautiful women who will do anything their hearts desire. Soon, the three men are in Slovakia, and the hostel is everything Alex promised and more. The problem is, they notice that the guests tend to disappear — including members of their own little trio after a few nights. Soon, the truth comes out: the place is a front for a “murder vacation” outfit, catering to millionaire sadists who want the ultimate thrill without all the pesky police attention. Before long, all three friends are drawn into the web, with one lone survivor (minus a few body parts) eventually making a desperate attempt at escape.

Yeah, it’s as horrifically nasty as it sounds — and as gory as modern theatrical makeup can render it. Kneecaps get drilled, eyeballs get blowtorched, digits get chainsawed. Somewhere in this circus of blood, however, you begin to genuinely care about the characters involved, and — even more frighteningly — maybe even begin to see yourself in their place. Those, folks, are terrible shoes to fill.

Fast paced, truly scary and (maybe best of all) wholly believable in this day and age, “Hostel” is sure to join the ranks of the cult classics of blood-n-guts horror. Great cinema it ain’t, but it does its job. Fans of the genre should catch it soon.


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