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Movie Review

This hunt for bin Laden is a super-size ego trip

In his new documentary, Morgan Spurlock of 'Super Size Me' fame flies to North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia trying to track down Osama bin Laden. In his new documentary, Morgan Spurlock of "Super Size Me" fame flies to North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia trying to track down Osama bin Laden. (DANIEL MARRACINO/THE WEINSTEIN CO.)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / April 18, 2008

It's possible that documentary personality Morgan Spurlock thinks the world of the people watching his movies. But he treats them like children. I don't mention this because his first movie since "Super Size Me" happens to be called "Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?," a riff on the title of a children's game and TV show, but because when he's talking to us in the movie's narration there's a lot of gee-whiz in his voice. Treating us like children would be more insulting if Spurlock didn't behave like a child himself.

In his defense, he's got babies on the brain. In "Osama," his wife is expecting. And lest we think her pregnancy should be all about her, Spurlock manufactures a crisis. He claims to be worried about bringing a child into such a violent and chaotic world. So he flies to North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia hoping to find the man symbolically responsible for all this instability. He's kidding and he's not. The name of his mission is "Operation Special Delivery," and the film is broken down by country and, as a tribute to video games, divided into rounds. The game's object is to finish the trip before Mrs. Spurlock delivers.

Spurlock interviews regular Egyptians and Moroccans and Palestinians and Saudis. A group of Hassids curse and shove him. He inexplicably dons traditional Arabic garments and walks around a mall in Riyadh asking whether anybody has seen you-know-who. Spurlock and his team of collaborators never find the movie amid all their material. If he's a questionable journalist and a poor detective, he's an even more woeful filmmaker. I was not a fan of Albert Brooks's "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World" (2005), but Brooks, at least, seemed willing to concede before it was over that his movie was a terrible idea.

Spurlock seems opportunistically optimistic. In one sequence, he swoops into the ruins of a Sderot schoolhouse hours after a bomb has hit it. Sitting at a desk amid debris he tells the camera that he can't imagine raising his child in this kind of environment. Then there's a cut to his wife back in New York doing yoga to remind us that he won't have to. From there it's back to Israel for a ride-along with the police, who look into a bomb-scare while Spurlock cranks generic Hollywood thriller music on the soundtrack. When it's over he pals it up with the remote-controlled robot tasked with opening the suspicious package.

These are the kind of glib stunts Michael Moore - Spurlock's cosmic mentor - might have been able to get away with. Moore is a clever filmmaker who can gird a movie with enough dramatic structure, human feeling, and personal gall to play the farceur. Spurlock doesn't have Moore's talent for mockery or his capacity for compassionate outrage. Mostly though, Spurlock's earnest enlightenment is unconvincing. All that manages to grow appreciably on him during this adventure is a beard.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/movies/blog.

Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?

Directed by: Morgan Spurlock

Written by: Spurlock and Jeremy Chilnick

Starring: Spurlock

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 93 minutes

In English, and French, and Arabic with subtitles

Rated: PG-13 (some strong language, implied violence, and the sight of Osama bin Laden doing the Hammer dance)

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