After endangering his life with a non-stop McDonald's diet in "Super Size Me," documentarian Morgan Spurlock decides to travel to unstable Middle Eastern countries and ask their citizens "Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?"
Anyone going into this expecting a documentary exploring the reasons that the world's most wanted terrorist is still at large is in for a big disappointment. Spurlock's second non-fiction effort (it rankles to label it documentary) is nothing but a boondoggle throughout the Middle East with high production values and no fresh insight. Spurlock seems to be adopting Michael Moore tactics without achieving even his spurious results.
What Spurlock does do is aim to be entertaining. His subject is framed in a cartoon video game menu, with Osama as its target (his 'cave,' as pictured is complete with a juvenile proclamation of love on a photo of Whitney Houston). As an addendum to "Size Me," we learn that the vaccine combo he needs for his upcoming travels have caused complex organ failure in six cases (out of how many, we are not told - pure Moore hysterics). Other preparatory scenes include some language lessons and training in anti-terror tactics - neither of which are skills he ever puts to use.
First stop - Egypt, where he visits the uncle of Osama's right hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri and asks if he'd turn him in for the reward, then asks people on the street what they think of the U.S. Some women who claim to be unpolitical say they believe the U.S. is trying to occupy Egypt. Spurlock gives us a brief tutorial on U.S. backed dictatorships like the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein - the *our* S.O.B. mentality - and concludes that 'to protect our own freedom, it's alright to sacrifice freedom of others.'
Hopping from Morocco to Israel and Palestine we hear citizens (except when he's obviously doing 'man on the street' type questioning, Spurlock never identifies why he is speaking to a particular group or how he was invited into someone's home) spurn Al Qaeda, wishing instead to take matters into their own hands. Many profess to like Americans but hate our Government. When Spurlock protests that if action is taken against the U.S., he would be a target too he's told by a friendly bunch that they hope he's not there when it happens. A Jordanian journalist who maintained correspondence with Al Qaeda's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi tells how the man said the U.S. played right into their hands with the Iraq war. In Saudi Arabia, which Spurlock calls the least progressive of all the countries he has visited (beheadings in the public square in the morning, soccer in the afternoon), interviews with school students are cut short when he asks about Israel. Above all, in every country he visits, Spurlock finds many ways to express that beneath it all, we are all the same. Is there anyone who still needs to hear any of this?
Spurlock's efforts at humor largely miss as well. His finding of the Bin Laden Aviation Company in a phonebook provides a macabre chuckle, but it's chilling to see Mohammed Atah mocked up as a baseball card. Comparing the 'franchising' of Al Qaeda to fast food is a cheap tie-in to his previous work and dubbing in an R2D2 trill for a conversation with bomb-disarming 'bot is lame. Spurlock also drags too much of himself into the mix, charting his fiancee's pregnancy back home, then capping his film with his son's birth as if it is the most poignant bonding experience he can offer his non-U.S. brothers.
The most surprising thing caught in "Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?" is the hostility of a group of Hasidic Jews towards the director's attempts to ask a few impromptu questions on the street with his film crew. One even shoves him repeatedly, but he doesn't try to understand why this pious group would react this way towards him. By the time he gets to Pakistan (which he does not enter), Spurlock's been ruminating on how fear is used to manipulate, shades of both "Bowling for Columbine" and "Fahrenheit 9/11." One Michael Moore is more than enough - we certainly do not need a glib facsimile.
Robin did not see this film.
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