On to another doc in Morgan Spurlock style, this one actually made by Morgan Spurlock. “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?” attracted a lot of attention when the Weinstein Company picked it up on the basis of just 15 minutes of footage shown to buyers at Berlin last year, and later because of rumors that Spurlock actually, you know, found bin Laden. Well, he didn’t (it was a big ask), and the doc’s been generating lukewarm reviews since its premiere at Sundance, and similar ones now that it’s receiving a theatrical release.
The major complaint from critics seems to be that the film dumbs down its subject matter to an intolerable degree. “Even though we Americans are, according to Mr. Spurlock, conditioned by ‘the media’ to regard all Muslims as violent extremists, he discovers that a lot of them are actually quite nice. Also, you may be interested to learn, the Israelis and Palestinians don’t get along so well, and there are a lot of problems in Afghanistan,” notes A.O. Scott at the New York Times. “Conventional wisdom rules,” agrees J. Hoberman at the Village Voice. “Even more so than in Super Size Me–which applied the same tactics, but to more appropriately trivial issues–Where In The World is a conversation-starter for ADD-stricken adolescents who can’t bear to think about one thing for too long, or too deeply,” writes the Onion AV Club‘s Tasha Robinson, who does find “[t]here’s a lot to like amid Where In The World’s bouncy amiability.”
Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly, who dismisses the film as a “feeble, once-over-lightly tour of the Middle East,” also wonders if Spurlock’s approach might be what’s actually needed to preach to an audience not already singing in the choir:
Spurlock tells you virtually nothing you didn’t already know — and, what’s more, he does it with catchy videogame graphics (Osama boogying to ”U Can’t Touch This”) and faux-naive man-on-the-street interviews that make Michael Moore look like Chet Huntley. The movie, in other words, is so glib and shallow and facile it just might work at the box office.
At New York, David Edelstein admits to the film’s flaws while thinking along the same lines, and drawing a comparison to Spalding Gray’s “Swimming to Cambodia.” “Would we listen as intently without the People magazine point of entry?” But Ed Gonzalez at Slant is less forgiving, writing that “Spurlock’s aesthetic is opportunistic by design, but what makes the director’s pandering to the masses so vulgar, almost sad, is that he obviously knows better.”
[Photo: “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?,” Weinstein Co, 2008]