'Pay 2 Play: Democracy's High Stakes': Film Review

Pay 2 Play Still - H 2014
Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Pay 2 Play Still - H 2014

A scattershot approach and overly familiar material detract from the important message of this political doc

John Wellington Ennis' documentary explores the role of big money in the political process

Big money assumes an outsized role in the American political process. It’s not exactly stop-the-presses news, but Pay 2 Play: Democracy’s High Stakes sure makes it seem that way. John Wellington Ennis’ scattershot documentary has many relevant points to make, but the problem is that they’re not made very well and almost all of them have been made before.

Among the many talking heads discussing the sorry state of our political system are such usual suspects as Robert Reich, Noam Chomsky, activist Lawrence Lessig and political blogger John Nichols. Inspirational writer Marianne Williamson, who failed in her bid to get elected to Congress, also weighs in, as well as disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who certainly knows the ins and outs of trading money for political access.

Ennis, whose previous documentary Free for All examined election fraud in Ohio, doesn’t quite seem to know how to organize his material here. The film is loosely structured around the poor societal lessons of the venerable board game Monopoly, about which one commentator says, “Felony crime is what it really teaches.” We learn the true history behind the game’s origins — its credited creator essentially ripped off a similar game that had been in public circulation for decades — and about another game, “Anti-Monopoly,” that wound up being buried in landfills as a result of legal action.

Among the other subjects dealt with in fairly superficial fashion are several Ohio congressional races featuring outsiders attempting to buck the system; such recent high-profile Supreme Court cases as Citizens United; the Occupy movement; and politically subversive street art. Among the film’s chief if less than major targets are former Ohio Republican Representative Jean Schmidt and David Krikorian, the latter of whom was named by Keith Olbermann as the “worst person in the world” after he made racist comments about the name of his opponent in a Democratic congressional primary, Surya Yalamanchili.

Trafficking in the usual hyperbolic style of politically themed documentaries — a reference to Lee Atwater is accompanied by a photo of him grinning evilly while clutching a huge cigar in his mouth — Pay 2 Play: Democracy’s High Stakes squanders its important message with its ADD approach.

Production: Public Interest Pictures, Shoot First Inc.

Director/screenwriter/director of photography: John Wellington Ennis

Producers: Holly Mosher, John Wellington Ennis

Executive producers: Holly Mosher, Rebecca Lynn Minkin

Editor: Vivian Umino

No rating, 89 minutes