Review: The Yes Men

Consider Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno’s many acts of defiance as calls to arms.

The Yes Men
Photo: United Artists

At the end of Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism, a series of media experts and watchdogs encourage a people’s revolution against the FOX’s screwy notions of “fair and balanced” reporting. The Yes Men are doing just that. The group of prankster activists now numbers in the hundreds and includes former Maxis employee Jacques Servin, who dealt a blow to heterosexism in the gaming industry by humorously programming gay kissing into SimCopter. But the focus of Chris Smith’s new film, co-directed with Dan Ollman and Sarah Price, is Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, two dudes who gained notoriety with a George W. Bush parody site before taking aim at the World Trade Organization.

Hellbent on corporate sabotage and “identity correction” (Bonanno was a major player in the Barbie Liberation Movement, which switched Barbie and G.I. Joe voice boxes in the mid-‘90s), the duo travels around the world impersonating members of the World Trade Organization after people begin to confuse their site for the real deal. (Compare the real WTO site with Bichlbaum and Bonanno’s anti-globalization send-up.) In Finland, they regurgitate the WTO’s pro-business/anti-human antics before a group of well-educated economists, and their presentation culminates with the revelation of a gold leisure suit that allows managers to control the “sheeple” under their watch via a tiny television attached to the suit’s gigantic phallus. To their utter mortification, not a single person in the crowd pegs them for pranksters.

It’s amazing what people will swallow when guys in suits and ties are cracking the whip, and these eloquent anti-globalization radicals see this as an example of the extent to which the corporate structure has sucked and drained our humanity. There’s a sublime moment in the film where one of the men—tired, maybe even scared by all the punking they’re orchestrating—wonders if it’s more fun to be satirical than sincere. And there’s something genuinely frightening about this revelation: In looking to distance people from the corporate machine and reconnect them to their humanity, these men are perhaps losing their own grip on reality.

I don’t think that’s a revelation that the filmmakers know how to properly plumb, but they do seem to understand that the Yes Men, more tired-and-true than tried-and-true, can’t continue to exist without our support. This frequently funny film may be minor key, but don’t confuse its fleeting quality as something negative. This group is still walking on its early legs, so consider Bichlbaum and Bonanno’s many acts of defiance as calls to arms.

 Cast: Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno  Director: Chris Smith, Dan Ollman, Sarah Price  Distributor: United Artists  Running Time: 80 min  Rating: R  Year: 2004  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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