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04.16.08

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Phaedra

Daniel Marracino/The Weinstein Company
GO MIDEAST, YOUNG MAN : Documentarian Morgan Spurlock visits foreign lands in 'Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?'

Visitation

A tourist searches for terrorists in Morgan Spurlock's 'Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?'

By Richard von Busack


THERE COMES a time in every humorist's life when he has to ask himself: is my facetiousness actually contributing to global ignorance? (Or they should, anyway; P.J. O'Rourke should have asked himself that question 25 years ago.) In the new Morgan Spurlock documentary, Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden, the matter of whether Spurlock's ignorance is comically assumed or genuine begins not to matter. His average-guy shtick makes Michael Moore look like Noam Chomsky. In Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?, Spurlock tours the Muslim world from Morocco to Pakistan, allegedly on the trail of the world's most-wanted man. And what he discovers will flabbergast only the most ostrichlike solipsist. After the stunt-eating doc Super Size Me, Spurlock is trying something a little bigger. It is growing-up time: his wife is pregnant with their first child. In the interests of world peace for his offspring, Spurlock leaves her to gestate and prepares for a trip to the Middle East. He receives injections for yellow fever and malaria, and trains with a security company to learn what to do in case of kidnapping. What he finally unveils could have been discovered with a fast web search.

Spurlock goes to Egypt and learns that the nation is run by a corrupt government, while being propped up with U.S. cash—has been for decades, apparently. In Israel, he finds that Palestinians are second-class citizens, kept behind walls; he discovers that the Gaza Strip is terrifying, and Tel Aviv gets bomb threats. Admittedly, Spurlock puts himself in the general vicinity of harm's way while touring with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. Dishdashed and bearded, Spurlock tours Saudi Arabia; this sequence is perhaps the best, due to the unapologetic religious totalitarianism of the kingdom. The most telling moment in the film: Spurlock corners a pair of very nervous high school students being watched by their teachers. The students are not allowed to express an opinion or to answer Spurlock's questions about Israel.

And that's the documentary: Spurlock and his crew catching the sleeves of shoppers, passers-by and taxi drivers, while enjoying the famous hospitality of Islam. Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden is a long man-on-the street interview. Repeatedly, Spurlock makes an ugly American out of himself by asking passers-by where Osama is. The most heartfelt answer comes from an anonymous Pakistani: "Fuck him and fuck America." The titles are amusing: a video game scored to hoedown music while an animated Spurlock uses magic 'stache power to throttle the wily terrorist. Caricaturing bin Laden might be a better response to terrorism than instituting panic. While one understands Spurlock's desire to cut bin Laden down to size, the film is more like an act of tourism than an act of exploration. There are libraries full of harder journalism on the subject of Mideast strife, containing work from everyone from Spurlock's interviewee Peter Jouvenal to Fantagraphics' Joe Sacco (cartoonist/journalist Sacco provides a much better starting point for answering that mind-boggling question, "Why do Arabs hate our freedom?") Spurlock's voyage in the name of his baby son is, for all its deliberate snark and silliness, as emetic as Sting asking if the Russians love their children, too.


Movie Times WHERE IS THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN (Unrated; 93 min.), a documentary by Morgan Spurlock, opens April 18 at Camera 7 in San Jose, CinéArts Santana Row and the Aquarius in Palo Alto.


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