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Film Review: The Yes Men Fix the World

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
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PARK CITY -- In 2004, Sundance screened "The Yes Men," a documentary about jocular anarchists Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, who engaged in a series of stunts to underscore the crimes and misdemeanors of contemporary corporations. Bichlbaum and Bonanno continue their dangerous games in a choice follow-up feature, "The Yes Men Fix the World," that played to an appreciative audience at this year's festival.

The original performed poorly at the boxoffice, but this film has a better chance in today's climate: Audiences should be far more receptive to a work lampooning the American free-enterprise system. This movie is a hoot, and a pertinent one at that.

In the new film's opening sequence, Bichlbaum and Bonanno present themselves as spokesmen for Dow Chemical prepared to make a major statement on the plant disaster in Bhopal, India, that claimed thousands in 1984. (The plant was owned by Union Carbide, later bought by Dow.) Bichlbaum is interviewed on the BBC claiming to represent Dow, where he apologizes for Bhopal and offers to pay $12 billion in reparations.

Amazingly, the apology is broadcast worldwide before Dow steps in to disown the Yes Men. But they have accomplished their purpose of reminding the world of the insensitivity of many major corporations. Later the duo perpetrates similar pranks exposing Halliburton and the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina.

The Yes Men's subversive purpose is commendable, but the film acknowledges that there might be another point of view. After the Bhopal prank, pundits ask whether the duo perpetrated a cruel joke by giving survivors false hope. So Bichlbaum and Bonanno go to India -- and, later, New Orleans -- to ask residents for their reactions. A few admit they were disappointed upon learning of the fraud, but others seem pleased that the prank called attention to shameful neglect on the part of big business and government.

The film is edited energetically by April Merl, an important collaborator for Bichlbaum and Bonanno. While the subject of corporate greed and malfeasance is depressing, there's something tonic about the impudent laughter this engaging documentary provokes.

Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Production: Arte France, Article Z, Renegade Pictures U.K., Britdoc, Charny-Bachrach
Directors-screenwriters: Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno
Co-director: Kurt Engfehr
Producers: Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno, Doro Bachrach, Ruth Charny, Laura Nix
Executive producers: Patrice Barrat, Alan Hayling, Jess Search, Juliette Timsit
Music: Neel Murgai, Noisola
Editor: April Merl
Sales agent: Cinetic Media
No rating, 90 minutes

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