Like the recent documentary “Citizen Koch,” “Pay 2 Play” aims to stir up outrage over influence peddling. Although billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch aren’t mentioned until midway through this film, they and their ilk — wealthy conservatives who push their agendas by pouring cash into the coffers of like- minded politicians — are clearly the villains here.
But director John Ennis is interested in doing more than getting people riled up. “How do we get past the pay-to-play system?” he asks in a voice-over narration. “Because I’m ready to be a board flipper.” That reference is to the Monopoly game and tossing all the pieces on the floor when you’re losing. Ennis uses the Hasbro game and its cartoon mascot, the mustachioed Uncle Pennybags, as a leitmotif throughout the film. In his view, the spirit of Monopoly — the player with the most money wins — is emblematic of what’s wrong with government today.
The answer to Ennis’s question, which he provides himself, is not just to get mad, but to get active. He advocates doing whatever one can to protest the status quo, whether it’s as an individual street artist or blogger or as part of a larger collective such as the Occupy movement. Ennis is an optimist at heart, and his belief that one person can make a difference is infectious, if naive.
That belief is echoed in the film by Surya Yalamanchili, a former contestant on the television show “The Apprentice” who ran for Congress in 2010 on a platform of election reform. He lost, but still thinks that one person can change the world. That’s refreshing to hear, especially when many other man-on-the-street interviews in the movie suggest that things have been so corrupt for so long that they will probably never change. Among the film’s famous talking heads, “Pay 2 Play” features interviews with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, linguist and leftist firebrand Noam Chomsky and former labor secretary Robert Reich, each of whom contributes a pungent soundbite or two.
At times “Pay 2 Play” seems to lose focus, digressing about racism in campaigning — Yalamanchili’s Democrat primary opponent allegedly made fun of his name — and the scourge of gerrymandering. The film tends to ramble a little, spending what seems like an inordinate amount of time on Ohio politics as a case study for the nation.
“Pay 2 Play” makes no new revelations. It’s one of a bunch of documentaries of late that have that tried to raise awareness about what they call the evils of the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC , which ushered in an age of unfettered corporate electioneering.
The difference with this movie is that it actually means to inspire hope. Ennis, who has a young daughter, says he can’t very well drop everything and live in a tent encampment to protest. But what he can do — in fact, what he has done, with this film — is something else that matters.
★ ★ ½
Unrated. At the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market. Contains some coarse language. 87 minutes.