'Pope Must Die': Lifeless, tasteless


Robbie Coltrane was a lot more fun when he was running around disguised as a nun in "Nuns on the Run." In "The Pope Must Die" (or "Diet," if you prefer), he is almost a tragic figure, but then there is a lot that is tragic about this supposedly comic film.

If there are any laughs, they go unnoticed.

You've heard about this movie. The title brought protests, so it was changed.

The title may be the least offensive thing about the film, one that may irritate both the devout and the art lover. The finale takes place in a reproduction of the Sistine Chapel where the bad guy, a Mafia don who has taken control of the Vatican Bank, shoots up Michelangelo's "Creation."

You want more? There is an assassination attempt on the Pope as he rides about the Vatican grounds, and there is Alex Rocco, who, as the Cardinal in charge of the Vatican Bank, talks like a street tough.

There is also a lot of killing in the film, most of which is tragic more than comic. Peter Richardson, who also directed the film, co-wrote the script, so he shares most of the blame here.

The plot has Coltrane play a doltish country priest who, through clerical error, is elected Pope. When he is, he discovers that the Vatican Bank is being mismanaged by thieves. He also discovers that the Church is doing nothing to help the poor. "We're the Church," says one man. "We collect money, we don't give it away."

At one point, the newly-elected Pope watches a Vatican-made exercise tape on television, one in which a prissy group of prelates work out to a song that goes -- "Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, work that fat until it's gone."

Does that sound funny to you? If so, you may enjoy the film. If not, you're going to come away wondering what the intentions of the producers were. Did they hope to shock? They don't. Did they hope to make us laugh? They don't.

Tasteless is best word for this film, whose only bright moments are provided by Salvatore Cascio, the little boy in "Cinema Paradiso." Young Cascio has a bright and sunny smile, and for the few moments he is on, "The Pope Must Die" is a pleasure. When he is off, the movie is a bore.

Coltrane, a fine comedy actor, proves he can also do serious material. The trouble is, the material in this instance should never have been this serious.

Beverly D'Angelo plays an American woman who had an affair with the Pope before he became a priest. They had a son who becomes a rock singer.

7+ "The Pope Must Die" opens here today.

"The Pope Must Die"

* A bumbling country priest is mistakenly elected Pope.

CAST: Robbie Coltrane, Beverly D'Angelo, Herbert Lom, Alex Rocco, Paul Bartel, Annette Crosbie, Salvatore Cascio

DIRECTOR: Peter Richardson

RATING: R (sex, nudity, language, violence)

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

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