By Rob Blackwelder
The Yes Men are a team of merry pranksters with an agenda. Advocates of gender equality, economic parity and human rights, they've been responsible for such famous stunts as the massive Barbie doll-GI Joe voicebox switch in toy stores during Christmas 1993 and the campaign parody website gwbush.com, which then-candidate George W. famously tried to have shut down because "there ought to be limits to freedom."
This hilarious and eye-opening do-it-yourself documentary follows the exploits of Yes Men Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonnano as they travel the globe posing as spokesmen for the World Trade Organization, speaking at economic conferences and making appearances on CNBC -- all the while pretending to espouse (and thereby expose) what they see as the WTO's goals: the exploitation of Third World labor to increase the profits of First World corporations. The funny thing is -- or is it the scary thing? -- their quarry never seem bothered by their innocuously delivered outrageous statements (the Civil War was the "least profitable war in history," and slavery is passé because foreign sweat shop labor is cheaper to maintain), and few even realize they're being set up -- even when the pranks grow exponentially absurd.
The film scores its political points completely in context (no narration, no exposition, no graphics) and quite entertainingly, even when the facts are chilling -- like the fact that all WTO agreements save one are designed to restrict governments from interfering with global business practices. But what makes "The Yes Men" amusingly spellbinding is that it's just astonishing to see how little scrutiny these guys receive from their targets -- even from newspapers (which carry pictures identifying them as WTO representatives) and serious TV talk shows (just how gullible is CNBC?).
I'm not a fan of the practical joke on a personal level -- it's mean-spirited to play tricks on people for no purpose other than to laugh at them. But to pull off a large-scale hoax with a higher purpose, to use activist humor for the greater good by sticking it to the greedy and the powerful whose actions go largely unchecked -- now, that's not only funny, it's profound. And to that end, "The Yes Men" is brilliant because its low-budget, camcorder style (courtesy of Dan Ollman, Sarah Price and Chris Smith, the team behind "American Movie") takes you right along for the ride and makes it clear that one or two people really could make a difference.
Here's hoping this documentary gets the recognition its cinematic simplicity and creative subject matter deserve among the deluge of more serious advocacy counterparts that seem to be everywhere this year.
***1/2 out of ****
(83m | R)