'Mad as Hell': Film Review

Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories
This adoring portrait is far too hagiographic to take seriously

Andrew Napier's documentary chronicles the career of media political pundit Cenk Uygur, host of the hugely successful "The Young Turks" Internet show.

A top-of-the-line PR company couldn't have devised a better promotional vehicle for media political pundit Cenk Uygur than Andrew Napier's documentary being released concurrently in theaters and VOD. Profiling the career of the Turkish-American radio, television and Internet personality in an unabashedly celebratory manner — its title recalling that speaker of truth Howard Beale from the film Network — Mad as Hell is far too subjective to take seriously.

It benefits, however, from the undeniably charismatic figure at its center. Whether tussling with O.J. Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran during an early television appearance as a panelist on a talk show hosted by Greta Van Susteren or joking around with his boss Al Gore during a short-lived tenure on Current TV, Uygur certainly commands attention.

The film begins with several of his friends and colleagues both past and present describing him as an irritating loudmouth, among other things. But that's the only unflattering moment in this otherwise hagiographic account of its subject's career, which began at a public access cable show in Arlington, Va., where he espoused conservative views.

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As his career progressed his political orientation shifted. Proceeding to gigs including a short-lived television show co-hosted with Ben Mankiewicz to a talk show, The Young Turks, on Sirius Satellite Radio to huge popularity on YouTube, Uygur became a liberal progressive thanks to such Republican actions as the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the Iraq War.

This inevitably led to a slot at the liberal cable network MSNBC, where he started out filling in for such personalities as Keith Olbermann before landing his own weeknight show. But his propensity for lambasting Democrats as well as Republicans landed him in hot water with management, who replaced him with Al Sharpton. They did offer Uygur a weekend morning show at more money, but he refused on principle. He later wound up at Current TV, only to have his career derailed once again when it was sold to Al Jazeera.

The film traces these many career shifts in laudatory fashion, with endless references to the Young Turks' popularity on YouTube, where they've amassed more than 1 billion views. It goes unsaid that videos of cats doing silly things are even more popular.

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We're constantly reminded of Uygur's fanatical drive and workaholic tendencies by such moments as footage of him alone in his New York City apartment Skyping with his wife and young son (named, rather grandiosely, Prometheus Maximus).

The media landscape is littered with similar firebrand pundits — some mega-successful, like Bill O'Reilly, others not. But other than celebrating its subject's relentless determination and clear talent for self-promotion, Mad as Hell does little to put his wildly careening career in sufficiently interesting context.

Production: Wrecking Crew
Director: Andrew Napier
Producers: Andrew Napier, Eric Ekman, Hal Duncan
Executive producers: Jerome thelia, Vijay Vaidyanathan, Shawn Christensen, Sanjeev Dhanda, Stephen Garcia, Petr Kral, Bryan Newton
Directors of cinematography: Andrew Napier, Daniel Katz
Editors: Andrew Napier, Eric Ekman
Composer: Ronen Landa

No rating, 82 minutes

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