In God We Trust
Studio: Kino Lorber Studio Classics
Apr 01, 2021
Even the toughest critics have their soft spots, and one of mine is definitely caper comedies. Trading Places, Couch Trip, The Great Muppet Caper… the 1980s was chock full of these things! It’s hard to say whether they’re actually great movies, but a fine way to spend a Sunday afternoon? Damn straight they are.
Of course, it might be blasphemy to spend a Sunday afternoon watching In God We Trust, an oddball 1980 film starring, co-written, and directed by Marty Feldman (most remembered as Igor in Young Frankenstein). Feldman plays Brother Ambrose, a monk who’s spent his entire life in a monastery, and who is sent into Los Angeles to raise $5000 to save that monastery. Along the way, he befriends a con artist preacher (Peter Boyle), falls in love with a sex worker (Louise Lasser), and comes under the wing of a shady televangelist (Andy Kaufman) who turns him into a minister for the Church of Divine Profit. Oh, and did I mention Richard Pryor plays God (or rather, G.O.D., a computerized version of The Almighty?).
Unsurprisingly given the people involved, In God We Trust is silly as shit, nominally offensive (both willfully and due to the shifting sands of time), and a hoot. There’s no shortage of Mel-Brooks-by-way-of-MAD-Magazine slapstick and schtick, plus a touch of Monty Python subversion for good measure. Kaufman seems invested in his role and uses it as a golden opportunity to chew scenery; he can’t carry a southern accent in a paper bag, but it’s still one of his better Hollywood roles. Lasser brings an empathy and worldliness to her character worthy of her ever-underrated range. Feldman is magnetic, masterful at physical comedy, and a surprisingly charismatic leading man.
Mind you, I don’t wanna oversell this thing. Like most madcap ‘80s romps, In God We Trust lags in spots, and some of the jokes either didn’t age well or were just dopey in the first place. That said, and atypically for this kind of film, the core message of returning compassion to the center of spirituality is a actually pretty good one, and a little surprising in the context of a biting satire.
Is In God We Trust essential viewing for casual comedy fans? Ehh, maybe not. If you, like me, are the type who’s gone out of their way to see a screening of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles at a repertory theater on a Tuesday night, you’ll probably have a good time.