Morgan Spurlock’s ego makes Michael Moore’s appear small by comparison. Opening three days after its hardcover tie-in reaches bookstores, Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden? is a rambling survey of tensions and conflicts affecting several Middle East nations, a tour Spurlock glibly frames around his insincere belief that he can’t bring a child into the world with Osama bin Laden still running loose. Visiting a good portion of the Middle East, Iraq and Iran being the most notable exceptions, Spurlock presents himself as a character in a video game and every pit stop on his trip, from Jordan to Pakistan, one increasingly precarious stage closer toward a presumable boss fight with bin Laden.
Spurlock’s aesthetic is opportunistic by design, but what makes the director’s pandering to the masses so vulgar, almost sad, is that he obviously knows better. We know this from the understandable frustration he feels when he receives a series of rehearsed answers from two teenage boys inside an Egyptian classroom, the awe he feels when an Israeli reporter acknowledges how Israelis and Palestinians are putting off the mutually understood endgame to their strife, the sight of a Starbucks in a country whose people harp about American dominance, and the obsession with American wrestling in many of the countries he jaunts to. But while Spurlock understands and grapples with irony as he sees it in others, he seems oblivious to the hypocrisy, arrogance, and sense of unchecked privilege implicit in his own behavior, as in a particularly vile scene where he walks through a mall and supermarket dressed as a Middle Eastern man, trying to engage people, mostly women, in conversation about bin Laden’s whereabouts.
Rather than express his own sincere frustration with a situation, Spurlock has Babe the pig—“I feel very uncomfortable in this conversation,” says the delicious piece of ham in a snippet from the film that made him into a star—do it for him. He also inexplicably affects hip-hop slang at one point (“mo’ money” instead of “more money”), and a scene in Israel involving a robot approaching a possible bomb is scored like an action movie, followed by Spurlock conversing with the robot, who’s been made to sound like R2D2. Foregrounding his pop-cultural fixations, thus suffocating the flashes of insight he gives us into the lives of Middle Eastern people, Spurlock gives currency to the stereotype of the self-absorbed, globetrotting Ugly American.