Afew minutes of inspired lunacy aside, "The Yes Men" is largely a case of the same old preachers preaching to the same old choir.
Another in the seemingly endless spate of left-wing documentaries apparently released as part of a concentrated let's-fry-Bush effort (made last year, it's only now getting national distribution, just 33 days before the election), this one is unlikely to get many people to the polls in a high state of anything except banal anticlimax.
To begin with, it's so smirkily inside-baseball it never bothers to make its argument; the film simply proceeds from the assumption that all of us in the audience are in agreement with its point. Given the size of the audience it's likely to attract, that's a pretty good bet.
It features the adventures of two self-styled pranksters, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, in their global quest to spoof the World Trade Organization. That would make it, I suppose, anti-globalization but I don't know one more thing about why I should be anti-globalizationistic now than when I went in. My heart and my mind went profoundly undisturbed.
Basically Bichlbaum and Bonanno have one trick, which we see repeated four times to varying degrees of success. They have a Web site whose address is purposely similar to the authentic WTO's; that means that occasionally business groups (or more likely, indifferent secretaries employed by business groups) e-mail them with invitations to attend conferences on behest of the WTO. So they go and perform subtly sarcastic imitation speeches or give especially stupefying interviews. The trouble is, the sarcasm is so subtle that the businessmen in the audience, usually hung over or jet-lagged out of their gourds, don't catch on.
So while the B-boys think they're setting up the WTO, what they're really doing is exposing the following global scandal (please stop the presses!): Most biz conferences are full of drones spouting boilerplate and most biz conference audiences aren't paying attention. The scandal! The outrage!
The movie is wretchedly photographed (videotape, I'm guessing) and padded with intimate details of the Yes Men on the road. I mean, does anyone want to watch these guys sleeping on the floor of apartments of mysterious "friends," cutting each other's hair or talking about how nervous they are? This stuff goes on and on and on.
The pay dirt, what little of it there is, is found in the four performances, three of which are pretty unremarkable and anticlimactic. One is, as I say, inspired. This is an event where Andy and Mike fly to Finland to address some barely filled auditorium of early risers on the subject of global worker supervision. They all have the sour faces and defeated body language of people who'd rather be someplace, anyplace, else. In front of this sad conglomeration of the indifferent, Andy blathers on about the problem of a manager in Finland monitoring a worker in, say, Jakarta. Hmmm, what to do? His answer: With Mike's assistance, he pulls off his specially Velcroed outfit to reveal a gold lame "leisure suit" with a giant inflatable phallus attached. Andy explains to the astonished audience that this is merely a prototype and that the final model will incorporate a television receiver so that the supervisor can monitor his staff in far-flung places while lounging about the pied-a-terre.
The audience in both movie theater and Finnish auditorium explodes into laughter. But were they laughing because the evil of transnational corporate indifference to worker freedom had been mercilessly exposed and lampooned or because a guy in a gold suit with a giant inflatable doohinkie is a pretty funny sight?
I think you get the picture.
The Yes Men (83 minutes, at Landmark's Bethesda Row and E Street Cinema) is rated R for sexual symbolism and profanity.