Morgan Spurlock heads east — and comes up empty.

Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? is director-producer-star Morgan Spurlock's dreadful follow-up to his 2004 hit Super-Size Me. The film records Spurlock's travels to Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Israel, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in search of the world's most wanted man. The other purpose of Spurlock's journey is to see what kind of world his unborn child will face. The connection between the nascent Spurlock fetus and al-Qaeda remains unclear, but Spurlock's own arrested adolescence is painfully obvious when he imagines an encounter with bin Laden as a video-game confrontation that plays out behind the film's opening titles.

Following the film's video-game setup, each country on Spurlock's journey is seen as a different "round" in the game/film. These rounds consist of some travel footage and a few brief interviews with people from each region who tolerate Spurlock's questions and answer them as best they can — only to be patronized and summarized by Spurlock's voiceover. Though he is not an overbearing ringmaster like fellow gonzo documentarian Michael Moore, Spurlock cannot and will not let his interview subjects' words stand alone.

He won't let any of his images tell his story, either. Footage of the half-destroyed high schools and bombed-out classrooms dotting parts of the Middle East are immediately underlined, and undermined, by Spurlock's simple-minded "Wow, this is awful" commentary. But it's not as though he has captured any memorable images in the first place. Most of his scenes are shot with a fish-eyed wide-angle lens like the kind used in MTV Cribs to make rock-star McMansions seem larger than they are. Maybe Spurlock is using this lens as an attempt to show how grossly distorted his own views of the Middle East are, but since he has no feel for images, shot composition, or editing, it's impossible to believe his poor camerawork was deliberate.

Spurlock is a genial, admittedly clueless narrator, which is partially why his film is so offensive. He doesn't seem to have any clue about how insulting his superficial, gee-whiz treatment of American foreign policy's impact on non-Americans really is. He arrives at the same conclusions that anyone with a brain would reach after traveling to a foreign country or even leaving their home state: Golly, people sure are different. Wow, the media only gives space to the most outlandish voices in the national landscape; real people aren't like that at all. Gosh, people have complicated feelings about America. Sorry, but this should not pass for political or social insight.

Worst of all, Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? is supposed to be funny, a gentle ribbing of humanity's foibles and misconceptions about one another. Enough of this weak-minded "commentary" already. Smirking at power and shrugging one's shoulders at the complexity of peoples' passions is not the same thing as speaking clearly and truthfully to power or presenting those passions with as little bias as possible. But those latter tactics are and have always been more arduous and risky than the glib, easy way out Spurlock prefers. He may have tramped around the Middle East for months, but it's obvious who Spurlock is really following: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?

Opens Friday, May 2nd

Studio on the Square


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