If Kevin Smith had made “Dogma” as his no-budget debut instead of “Clerks”, the result might have been something like “Bible Madness.” Ex-fundamentalist and current atheist Dwayne Walker’s talky tale of a pair of Baptist missionaries witnessing to the residents of an Orange County apartment complex may not be much to look at, but it is an absorbing and surprisingly thoughtful meditation on the place of religion in contemporary society.
Granted, the set-up is not immediately promising. Dallas Munroe and Bart Aikins play the mismatched fundie duo of Roger Bunyan and Pete Jackson. Roger is a cynic with political aspirations, while Pete is a true believer out to lead poor lost souls to salvation. Day after day they hang out in front of the gated community, yakking about matters theological until either someone lets them in or the opportunity to sneak inside presents itself. Their goal is explicitly stated by one of the intertitles that occasionally pops up on the screen: “Let’s Go Soul Winning.”
“Bible Madness” is no visual feast. It’s black and white, shot on video, consists mainly of static close-ups and two shots, and nearly all the action takes place in and around the generic, depressingly familiar Southern California apartment complex. The surprising thing is how quickly I forgot about these concerns as the story progressed and the focus narrowed to Pete’s attempts to win over female body builder Diana Murphy (Joanne Rubino) and her sister Carol. Diana is an avowed atheist, and her confrontation with Pete builds to an extended dialogue exchange that will either have you engrossed or reaching for the remote. While I fell into the former camp, it’s not hard to imagine many viewers finding this God-centric gabfest a turnoff. Nonetheless, there is much to admire here, including an encounter between the Baptists and the “hippies for Jesus” of Faith Chapel, the nostalgic reappearance of Chick tracts (you know, those little Fundamentalist comics that usually end with some scoffing unbeliever being tossed into the lake of fire), and a convincingly fervid performance from Bart Aikins. As his partner Roger, Dallas Munroe is a bit more amateurish, but definitely embodies the creepy blend of right-wing paranoia and moralizing self-righteousness that fuels many late night cable access shows. Fans of those programs, with their loose cannon hosts and free-flowing jabber, will no doubt get a kick out of this “Madness.”