February 13, 2008 / 7:01 AM / 10 years ago

"Osama" not so super for Spurlock

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - After setting the fast-food industry on its ear with 2004’s “Super Size Me,” Morgan Spurlock turns to examining U.S. foreign policy and the “war on terror” in “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?”

Morgan Spurlock, best known for his documentary film "Supersize Me" and the new documentary in "Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden" which is in competition at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, gestures on Main Street in Park City, Utah January 20, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

H trademark triple-threat of first-person inquiry, down-home humor and intimate shooting style remains intact, but the target is more elusive.

Between the success of “Super Size Me” and Spurlock’s growing reputation as a film and TV director and producer, “Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?” is likely to draw the admiring and curious. Nevertheless, a sustained theatrical run might prove challenging for the Weinstein Co. in the current marketplace for Mideast-related titles. (A release date has not yet been set.) Worldwide DVD and broadcast returns could be significant.

The conceit behind the documentary — and Spurlock’s motivation for tracking down the international community’s most-wanted man — is his quest to create a safer world for the impending arrival of his first child with wife Alexandra Jamieson.

In an entertaining animated sequence that sets up Spurlock and Osama bin Laden as battling video game characters and serves as a framing device throughout the film, the director outlines his mission: travel to a series of Mideast hotspots to investigate bin Laden’s background, pinpoint his location and track him down.

The first stop is Egypt, where the terrorist mastermind’s fiery brand of Islamic radicalism originates. Interviewing students, intellectuals and ordinary people on the street, Spurlock attempts to understand bin Laden’s opposition to the U.S. and how widely it’s shared by ordinary people. Along the way, he searches for clues to the fugitive’s whereabouts, adopts local dress and hangs out with residents.

Spurlock repeats the process as he crosses the Middle East on his personal peace mission, encountering both moderate subjects and others who adhere to various conflicting beliefs. As he travels through some of the territories that shaped bin Laden’s values and terrorist career, including Israel, the West Bank, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Spurlock hears from many that while they oppose U.S. foreign policy, they don’t hate Americans personally.

In fact, they want a lot of the same things Americans do — decent jobs, a peaceful society and better opportunities for their kids. A few sticky situations and less-receptive subjects are reminders of how deep resentment toward the U.S. actually does run, but Spurlock’s message overall — restated with the end-credit song by War — seems to be “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”

Although he makes an amusing comic foil, Spurlock is ill-equipped to either evaluate or report on Middle East foreign policy. His methodology is disturbingly casual and conclusions woefully simplistic. Noticeably lacking is any analysis of the role that oil politics play in the region and how those machinations determine U.S. policy, forming the root of many of the problems he superficially addresses.

Working with a small, mobile crew, Spurlock achieves attractive production values, enhanced by sharp, clever editing.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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