Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The YES MEN are back, fixing the world at Film Forum (after doing it on HBO)

"Forget your troub-
les -- come on, get happy!" sings out the soundtrack over the opening credits for THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD, that continuing saga of the smart and cheeky twosome who love to play pranks on the sleazier side of corporate America. What? You ask what side of corporate America isn't sleazy? We'll go into that another time. For now, let's concen-
trate on the laughter that this movie will evoke in those who have kept up over the decades with Union Carbide and Bhopal, Milton Friedman and his acolytes, Halliburton and Exxon, Hurricane Katrina and HUD.
Gosh: talk about high-profile romantic couples!

The Yes Men is the combined a.k.a. of Andy Bichlbaum (above, right) and Mike Bonanno (above, left), two talented and funny guys who have created this naughty pair, given them the agenda of going after some of the worst of our big league corporations and then, together with co-director Kurt Engfehr, filming it all for posterity -- and the stock market, if only to watch it dip, briefly, after a prank has been played. Basically a continuation of their first film, The Yes Men (from 2003), this new one shows what the team has been up to since. I think they've learned a bit more about film-making in the meantime, if not "pranking," because their movie bounces about with even more zest than did their earlier one.

After Dow Chemical buys Union Carbide (of Bhopal infamy), the boys decide to officially announce to the world, while posing as Dow spokespeople, that the company now assumes full responsibil-
ity for the Bhopal disaster and will pay out twelve billion dollars in reparations to the victims. (It is at this point that the Dow stock takes a small seizure.) How they manage this, with DOW and other targets such as Haliburton and Exxon, and manage to make us laugh so heartily (for awhile, at least) is where most of the fun lies. Their interviews with the Friedman acolytes, all right-wing think-
tank folk -- against a blue screen for which they ask their subjects to pick the background -- leads to one of the funniest, if weirdly outre, jokes in the entire movie. (Are the Yes Men gay, perhaps?)

Underneath the laughter, there's a lot of pain, and I suspect the two men would be the first to admit this. Did not their joke on Dow and Bhopal prove a horrible one for the survivors who thought, if only briefly, that they were to be recompensed? Our guys go to Bhopal to learn the answer to this, and if the film can be believed, the Bhopal folks -- once they got over their disappointment -- were only too happy to see Dow and Union Carbide made fun of, and the whole horrible event back in the news again to cause as much trouble for these powerful and disgusting companies as possible.

And so it goes throughout the movie: The boys introduce Vivoleum, the new Exxon-invented fuel made from... shades of Soylent Green! Then it's off to New Orleans, where they announce that HUD, rather than continuing to raze the Katrina-damaged housing of the poor and replace it with homes for the wealthier, is finally going to do the right thing for the the homeless: fix the damage and let the people move back in. This is the only point in the movie where the Yes Men's audience bursts into a round of applause for someone actually doing the right thing.

The end credits close with one of my favorite new film-making categories: a list of "Thought Sylists," headed by Naomi Klein. As much as I enjoyed this film, I must admit that the taste of ashes was in my mouth by the finale. Nothing real is being done on any of the fronts "pranked" by the Yes Men, so while the converted can enjoy a good laugh at the expense of evildoers, the evil they do just goes on and on. Well, if we're past the point of no return, as so many environmentalists continue to tell us, I suppose we might as well laugh through our "end times."

After making its debut awhile back on HBO, The Yes Men Fix the World opens today at New York City's Film Forum for a 2-week run.

(Photos courtesy of Shadow Distribution.)

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