Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Released today on DVD: "The Yes Men Fix the World"
Take the prankster chutzpah of Sacha Baron Cohen. Pair it with Michael Moore's crusading lefty outrage. Add two frazzled-looking guys in cheap suits. What do you get? The Yes Men, globetrotting "culture jammers" who pose as corporate mouthpieces - and cause all sorts of mischief for all sorts of people in power.
In 2003, they released The Yes Men, a documentary tracking their exploits as bogus representatives of the World Trade Organization. In their risible new sequel, The Yes Men Fix the World, they ramp up the production values, yielding a slicker, nervier film that's also - unexpectedly - more sincere.
They're no longer content to just spoof the stuffing out of monolithic business interests. Instead, they want to change things.
Mike Bonanno is the Yes Man who narrates Fix the World and sticks behind the scenes for most of the stunts. In the spotlight is Andy Bichlbaum, an angular, nervy fellow who shows up to speak whenever one of the group's fake Web sites - mocking Dow Chemical, Exxon Mobil, Halliburton - draws an invitation to speak at a convention or media event.
The film's opening sequence shows Bichlbaum in December 2004, as he prepped for a spot with the BBC. They thought they'd landed an interview with a Dow official named Jude Finisterra. Instead, they got a world-class liar who calmly declared that Dow, recently merged with Union Carbide, had decided to take "full responsibility" for the 1984 Bhopal disaster and planned to spend $12 billion on victim restitution.
It was quite a feat. Dow stock lost $2 billion in 20 minutes. By any measure it was the Yes Men's biggest and boldest hoax - though they came close just a few months ago, when Bichlbaum "announced" a position shift on climate change for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (The chamber filed suit.)
Politically, Yes Men Fix the World covers much the same territory as Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story, but it uses broad absurdity and agitprop performance art rather than high-dudgeon sermonizing to make its point. Beyond question, the results are overstated, outrageous and wildly juvenile. But they're also a hoot to watch.