Worthy pitch misses the mark
By Justin Moyer
Friday, Nov. 13, 2009
"Underprivileged students make good -- sell real-life CEOs on homegrown businesses."
In a genre dominated by gloomy Michael Moores and doomsayer Al Gores, what's not to like about this documentary pitch? Is it too good to be true? Or is the postmodern filmgoer -- inured to the make-believe the trials of Balloon Boy and the fake tribulations of reality TV -- just too jaded to believe it? Whether it's credulity or audience cynicism, "Ten9Eight: Shoot for the Moon" has a problem, and good vibrations won't solve it.
Documentarian Mary Mazzio's setup is a Bravo exec's dream: 24,000 students from around the country compete annually in the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship's business plan competition, and, after a heartbreaking elimination process, the winner walks away with $10,000. Unlike contestants on "American Idol" or "Top Chef," these kids aren't part of an absurd spectacle that will decide who graces the next cover of Rolling Stone or who gets to open a misguided Asian fusion restaurant in Tribeca. They become real entrepreneurs and, whether peddling skin lotions, vegetarian dog treats or custom-made guitars, must convince actual businesspeople that their small ideas are big and bankable. The stakes are high, right?
Maybe in the hands of another director.
Mazzio -- armed with a cheesy soundtrack and lightning-fast editing that makes it impossible to get to know the film's innumerable protagonists -- forgoes pathos for schmaltz. A former Olympian who directed "A Hero for Daisy," a documentary about the battle for Title IX athletic equality for women at Yale, should be familiar with the meaning of cutthroat competition. But she wants everyone to win a contest (and triumph in an economy) that's not interested in rewarding everyone. Case in point: An ingenious idea to incorporate polarized sunglasses into football helmets gets beat by something called a "Popsycake" (for real: http://www.popsycakes.com). An interview with a former contestant who became a drug dealer and served prison time is a bummer but brings welcome complexity to a film funded by the John Templeton Foundation that feels like a credit card commercial. Less weird than "Spellbound" and less fun than your average episode of "America's Top Model," "Ten9Eight" shoots for the moon, but scans like the background noise at a philanthropic retreat.
At AMC Loews Georgetown and AMC Magic Johnson Capital Center. Contains nothing objectionable.