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There's Something About W
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by Chris Parry

"Okay, now we're just shooting fish in a barrel."
2 stars

Look, I'm all about getting a look at any film that will harm George W. Bush's chances to get reelected later this year. Consider it a passion. A raison d'Ítre, if you will. But as much as I enjoy finding out about new scandals within the current White House administration, I do have a limit on what I can be fed before the gag mechanism kicks in, and after a summer of anti-Bush documentary onslaught, I think this film marks the point where I say, "okay, enough already." In a nutshell (and that's where Dubbya belongs), just slapping together a bunch of George's most embarassing moments does not a good movie make. And when it comes right down to it, there's Something About W has nothing more than a few comedians ragging on Bush, and a few clips of George proving he's not far above pondscum on the evolutionary scale. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

On July 29, 2003, Senator Barbara Boxer testified before the Foreign Relations Committee of the Unites States Senate about a document put out by the Bush Administration, called The Network of Terrorism. This document was put out one month after 9/11, and features a page titled "Countries Where Al Queda or Affiliated Groups Have Operated." That page consists of a map of the world with dozens of countries highlighted in red, including the US, most of Europe and almost all of the Middle East. I say 'almost' all of the Middle East because there is one, and only one, country situated in amongst all that red ink that stands out as apparently NOT having been involved with Al Queda. That country is known as Iraq.

Months later, George W. Bush would push the world to invade Iraq, because he claimed they were in league with Al Queda, had stockpiled moutnains of poisonous gas and chemical weapons, and were a threat to the United States.

Now, to me, this is serious stuff. If the Bush government was certain enough that Iraq was not working with Al Queda in November 2001 to highlight the fact in a document, why did they suddenly insist on invading the country a few months subsequently? That question is a documentary in itself, but There's Something About W leaves the thought right there and cuts away instead to stand up comedian Will Durst telling an audience "George Bush said, 'We know Saddam has weapons of mass destruction'... how do you know? 'Because my dad sold them to him!'

Sure, it's funny, but the point is all but lost because the filmmakers have decided to level a 'shock and awe' campaign of mass bombing of the Bush administration, rather than a 'smart bomb' attack that would focus on a specific issue that could be proven. Just as Fahrenheit 9/11 went after a thousand different Bush sins in quick time, instead of slowing down and proving ten or twelve of them of them beyond any doubt, so too does There's Something About W try to cover every ill Bush has ever exacted on the American public, and quite frankly there is just too much ground to cover.

For mine, one of the highlights of the film comes from a speech given by Paul Krugman, Ph.D and Professor of Economics at Princeton University. Krugman makes mention of the old theory that whenever Bill Gates walks into a bar, everyone within that bar becomes a millionaire because the average income of the entire place is suddenly a few hundred million bucks a piece. Krugman points out that Bush's tax cuts work on the same principle, where the rich get such a humungous tax break that it allows Bush to say that "92 million Americans will take keep, this year, an average of almost $1100 more of their own money," when in actual fact the median tax break for the man in the middle is about $250.

A great point, delivered crisply and clearly and devastatingly when seen alongside Bush's well-worded speeches, but when such a passage is followed by another Durst joke ("George says 'the American people want tax cuts'... duh. The American people also want drive-thru nickel beer night!"), the flow is gone, the impact is lost, and the attack is muted. In fact, all you're left with is a series of quick thoughts, easy bitchslaps and unproved (at least for the redneck non-believer) allegations.

Surprise surprise, George W. Bush is a moron. Big shock, his administration makes dumbass decisions that benefit nobody but their corporate overlords. Oh my god, the system is completely broken and the President doesn't work for the people anymore, but instead shills for the corporations. Gee, big newsflash. But haven't we seen all this before? And done a little better than this?

In a word, yes. Back about six months ago, when many good documentaries were coming to the fore which showed some of George's deepest darkest secrets (think Control Room, Unprecedented, Bush's Brain, and the much maligned but still un-sued Fahrenheit 9/11), it was easy to get behind these films and rally to their cause. In my opinion, anyone who isn't either rich, ignorant or genuinely hateful (or a combo of the three) could not possibly justify a decision to vote for George Bush Jr in the coming election, so these films were seen as the great white hope for the 'fancy pants elitists' (to coin George's phrase) who thought that by showing Bush's dark side on a really big screen, maybe voters would actually take more notice.

It was an exciting time. Doco after doco emerged, and most of them grabbed a decent number of screens around the country. Stupidity, The Hunting of the President, Outfoxed, Uncovered, Horns and Halos, Orwell Rolls in his Grave, Only In America... it seemed that whenever you hit a Cineplex, there was another dose of political reality grabbing an audience's attention.

But then it started to get silly. The World According to Bush. The Faith of George W. Bush. Buried in the Sand: The Deception of America... As the titles got longer, the impact wore thin. and as the audiences started to get tired of the same old same old, more and more documentary-makers decided to join the scrum.

So now we have There's Something About W, a film touted as "a wry look at the policies of the Bush administration." Well, it is wry. And it is at times funny. And it does discuss the policies of the Bush Administration. But, sadly, this just isn't the sort of film that will get the masses motivated. Or even all that interested. In fact, it seems to come across more as a rush job; a project started and completed by people who knew that, no matter what it contained, there are a large number of Bush-haters out there who will buy it from Amazon and invite several like-minded folk over to hum and haw and nod meaningfully at how awful the world is.

Look, I have no issue with someone putting together a little comedic spray on George the Monkey King. In fact, I'm thinking such a thing is long overdue, after all, the guy certainly gives comedians enough material to work with, but true comedy requires more than clips of varying quality from comedians of various notoriety. It requires careful assemblage of evidence, undeniable facts and enough time on each point to prove to the unwitting and uninformed voter that he has but one choice come election day. An ideal political documentary should be so devastating that the evidence within it could be used to impeach the subject of the piece. when you think of some of the great Errol Morris docos, you're struck by how little bias they feature and how much information they feature, while still being entertaining. To aim for anything less than that, in my opinion, is to demean that genre, the audience and the cause that started the ball rolling to begin with.

I'm not saying that There's Something About W is crap - it isn't. And it does contain an awful lot of information that, I know from having read up on the topic, is true and damning. But I'm not the one the makers of this film should be aiming at - they should be selling their tonic to soccer moms and NASCar dads, not well read, liberal leaning, educated guys like myself who already know that George W. Bush is the worst President in Amercan history. Bring me a documentary that'll turn a redneck Arkansas Southern Baptist against George Bush and I'll deliver you the magic five stars. This film, sadly, is not the massiah I'm looking for.

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originally posted: 10/25/04 16:59:54
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This film is listed in our political documentary series. For more in the Political Documentary series, click here.

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  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 18-Oct-2004



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