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Awesome: 17.65%
Worth A Look: 5.88%
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2 reviews, 5 user ratings

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Yes Men, The
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by Luke Pyzik

"Funny, but shockingly un-shocking"
3 stars

Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum are the Yes Men, two real life rabble-rousers who met because of a shared affinity for public satire. They came together to create a character named Hank Hardy Unruh when some business people mistook their parody World Trade Organization website for the real thing. The duo jump on the opportunity to satarize corporate greed when various corporate entities request Unruh to speak at conventions as a WTO representative. The two collaborate on obscene presentations where Unruh (Bichlbaum) and his greasy assistant (Bonanno) offer up the WTO platform in the most extreme manner possible, like suggesting sweat shop workers can be monitored 24 hours a day by means of a body suit where a protruding television set is supported by a large, inflatable phallus.

Bonanno and Bichlbaum tackle their missions with all the zeal and excitement of giddy underclassmen, and their passion is infectious and admirable, even if their humor is relatively juvenile. Their pranks fall somewhere in-between the satirical strategies of Ali G, Michael Moore, and “The Onion.” High company indeed, but while the Yes Men may be listed among them in terms of tone, they can’t quite compare to that elite group in terms of execution. The gags within the film seem to lack immediacy due to the minute audiences witnessing them. There are three public appearances by Hank Hardy Unruh chronicled in the movie, two of which take place in front of small, disinterested corporate audiences, and another in front of a classroom full of college students who quickly turn against him. At one point, Bonanno even admits the pranks are not necessarily for the present audience, but for the publicity that will come from newspaper and magazine coverage. That is fine for their purposes of public rabble-rousing, as the second hand accounts of their presentations are undoubtedly more shocking than the presentations themselves, but for a film that focuses on the actual performances, it can’t help but be a little underwhelming.

The biggest disappointment for the Yes Men (and for us in the audience) is that their most disturbing presentation is wasted on a group of college students when an Australian conference is cancelled due to lack of enrollment. The college students have the benefit of coming off like educated heroes when they object to the Yes Men’s proposal for recycling American fecal matter and turning it into hamburgers to be served at third world McDonald’s franchises, but it would have been much more revealing and appropriate to the movie’s theme had this presentation been given to the corporate audience in Australia. The fact that the Australian conference was cancelled due to “lack of enrollment” is yet another sign the Yes Men are shooting fish in a barrel. With their considerable talents, they should be hunting bigger fish.

The movie itself doesn’t really make an argument for the Yes Men’s political stance, but rather focuses on the duo’s high jinks without ever addressing the complexities behind the WTO controversy. While a movie cannot exactly be blamed for what it is not, the comedy would almost certainly carry more weight had we been given at least some kind of brief history behind the WTO’s formation and solid facts regarding the regular human injustices taking place because of its practices. The filmmakers assume everyone who walks into the theater will all ready have an understanding of the issues and a similar disdain for the WTO, which, admittedly, is probably a safe assumption for an art house documentary, but it feels incomplete for a film that wants to have a political impact.

The movie is still very funny, even if the political satire isn’t as sharp as it could be. It’s hard not to laugh while watching Bichlbaum prance around with a huge phallic television stand protruding from his groin, or listening to him explain how feeding human waste to poor people is a reasonable business practice. “The Yes Men” has been directed by Dan Ollman, Sarah Price, and Chris Smith, and while some of the footage is terrific, there is not quite enough substance to sustain a feature. Smith and Price made “American Movie,” one of the funniest and best documentaries I have ever seen, and by comparison, “The Yes Men” seems thrown together and not completely thought out.

“The Yes Men” is very funny in places where it should be, but ultimately unsatisfying in places where it needs to pack a satirical punch. The movie works up to a point because Bonanno and Bichlbaum are so clever and charming, and it also works well as a chronicle of grass roots rabble-rousing, but the movie is structured in a way so that the three performance pieces are the foundation of the film. Only two of the three pieces are funny, while only one of them is delivered to its intended audience. Should the Yes Men ever decide to make a more thoroughly planned, better thought out sequel, I’ll be the first in line.

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originally posted: 10/06/04 00:05:54
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User Comments

11/20/05 Durgan Food for thought. Loved the suits swallowing the (misinformation?). 5 stars
7/18/05 Zaharin Bin Abdul Razak Punk'd: The Movie! I couldn't stop laughing! 4 stars
2/21/05 Ahnold Since no one else has the guts to muckrake anymore, this movie gets my highest rating. 5 stars
9/27/04 Fungo Feh. 3 stars
9/23/04 el burro Awesome 5 stars
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  24-Sep-2004 (R)
  DVD: 15-Feb-2005



Directed by
  Dan Ollman
  Sarah Price
  Chris Smith

Written by

  Dr. Andreas Bichlbauer

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