Film review: Look at Rev. Billy may be tough sell

'What Would Jesus Buy' has moments but does bog down

Published: Friday, Dec. 7 2007 9:04 a.m. MST

WHAT WOULD JESUS BUY? — ** 1/2 — Documentary on the Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir; rated PG (mild profanity, violence); see Page W2 for theaters.

The anti-commercialism message spread by the Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir might seem a bit bah-humbug-ish to some yule-season lovers. But it's a worthy one.

Which makes it all the more unfortunate that "What Would Jesus Buy?" — a tongue-in-cheek documentary that tracks the fictional reverend and his unique, like-minded music group on a cross-country trip throughout the United States — is a bit on the ho-hum side.

While you can appreciate what the choir and the film are trying to say, too often they get bogged down in trying to spread that message. They also take themselves a little too seriously at times.

Filmmaker Rob VanAlkemade profiles the good reverend — real-life actor-comic-musician Bill Talen — to explain what prompted him to become a full-time shopping "protester."

As the film shows, Talen was apparently inspired by real street preachers, as well as the supposed "Disney-fication" of New York's Times Square.

And the Walt Disney Co. turns out to be a frequent target of his public displays, as with a planned disturbance in the Times Square Disney Store, as well as a tour stop at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.

The movie also shows some of Talen's numerous run-ins with police and security guards, as when he targets Minnesota's Mall of America.

VanAlkemade, a friend of "Super Size Me" filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, does manage to hit a few targets with Talen's help. And carrying on about the upcoming "Shopocalypse" is sort of amusing.

However, you may wish VanAlkemade had included more in the way of performance material, especially since there are clearly some talented people involved in Talen's choir.

"What Would Jesus Buy?" is rated PG for some profanity (mostly religiously based) and some brief violence (a near-riot and a vehicle mishap, mostly overheard). Running time: 90 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com