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Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic

Silverman's Humor Somewhat Lost in Translation

Sarah Silverman is very, very funny. Let there be no confusion on this topic. Silverman, along with funnymen like David Cross and Patton Oswalt, have fueled the resurgence of standup comedy, and her act is refreshingly shocking. Sure, she riffs on rape, race, AIDS, masturbation and 9/11, but it's not simply a case of picking taboo targets. She does, and she attacks them all with savage wit, but the key to her comedy is her personality. She seems intelligent, proper, even sweet, but then she opens her mouth and out comes the bile. It's discomforting, and it's funny.

Unlike most of her peers, Silverman is also lazy, and that's unfortunate. I should confess that I have seen her perform on several occasions, dating back to 2002, and I can now watch her on stage recite the words to almost every joke. They're like familiar songs, and while it's always fun to hear the Rolling Stones tear through a blistering version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" -- as they have at nearly every one of their concerts during the past 25 years -- it's not such a good thing to hear the same punch-lines, over and over. The jokes become stale, predictable, and so has Sarah Silverman.

For the uninitiated, Jesus is Magic will deliver plenty of big laughs. It's the film version of her one-woman show, taped in 2004 at a theater in North Hollywood. All the familiar jokes are there, and they're far too vile to repeat here, but for the most part, they work. There are awkward pauses, and Silverman's delivery always seems a few beats off, but that's deliberate. She lures her audience into a comfort zone and then jolts them out of it with some of the raunchiest, filthiest one-liners you'll ever hear. They're not for the faint of heart or the politically correct, but they are frequently hilarious.

Rather than merely present minimally edited concert footage, a la Eddie Murphy in Raw, Jesus is Magic divides its time between the one-woman show and a handful of new skits, some funny, some not so funny. In one sequence filmed with her sister, Laura, and fellow Mr. Show grad Brian Posehn, she plays a character who has never accomplished anything, so she lies to impress her friends. Silverman captures the character's tone perfectly, and it's her spot-on delivery that makes the bit work. Elsewhere, she throttles her grandmother's corpse, and it seems almost desperate in its desire to be shocking. And it's tasteless, no doubt, but funny? Sadly, no.

To be fair, Jesus is Magic will probably be a pleasant surprise to those unfamiliar with Silverman's cutting brand of comedy, and there's no questioning her talent. But for fans of her work, this stuff is getting tired, and it doesn't help that the movie is edited so haphazardly that it never quite establishes a flow. Maybe that's deliberate, too. If it is, I'm not sure what or whose purpose it serves. Definitely not Sarah Silverman's.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars