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The Yes Men
2004 - R - 83 Mins.
Director: Dan Ollman, Sarah Price
Producer: Sarah Price, Chris Smith
Review by: Harrison Cheung
Official Site:
Blame it on Michael Moore but 2004 is shaping up to be a bumper crop year for political documentaries. ‘The Yes Men’ is the latest offering – a type of extended crank yankers episode where the 2 “Yes Men” (anti-corporate activists, Andy and Mike) thanks to a case of intentional mistaken identity, impersonate representatives of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

For those not too politically-economically aware, the WTO is the organization trying to bring free trade around the world. According to the data Andy and Mike presents, free trade has not brought about global prosperity but in fact has made poorer nations poorer without the sovereign ability to tax or control companies for their own nations’ welfare.

Though the case they make is compelling, the documentary is less so. I was instead more impressed by the construction of Michael Moore documentaries which have a certain narrative and flow. ‘The Yes Men’ consists of three major gags – impersonating the WTO at a conference in Finland, again at college in New York, and at a press conference in Australia. In between, we have long periods of slight humor as the Yes Men prepare their costumes or present their data. The doc also has a couple interviews with Michael Moore about the effects of the WTO.

While Moore documentaries have many interviews which lead the viewer to a conclusion, ‘The Yes Men’ is structured to show off the chutzpah of their pranks. Perhaps the most amazing thing about their pranks is the disappointing non-reaction in two of the events. What the ‘Yes Men’ are trying to do with their performance activism is to provoke thought but when audiences don’t react, we’re left with the sinking feeling that even legitimate speakers can get away with proposing outrageous economy policy without penalty or restriction. The funniest moment was when one of the “Yes Men” appeared on CNBC as the WTO’s spokesperson, contemptibly spewing Darwinian philosophy without upsetting the other TV panel debaters. Only at the New York college did the ‘Yes Men’ provoke the students into anger and disgust.

If the message here is that the WTO is bringing about worldwide poverty with no opposition thanks to yawning indifference, ‘The Yes Men’ doesn’t help their cause with an often dull and listless documentary. Uneven and poorly paced, Moore has upped the entertainment prerequisite for documentaries – and ‘The Yes Men’ falls short. Numerous clips are in poor focus and suffer from guerilla camera-in-the-dark style work. Having a couple Michael Moore interviews seemed to be a desperate attempt at cashing in on his current commercial box office appeal since Moore is not known as an economic authority. In fact, the few pieces of actual data about the effects of free trade are presented in 2 Moore interviews and 1 with a British activist. As documentarians, the Yes Men could have interviewed actual Americans, Canadians and Mexicans affected by that grand 1992 experiment known as the North American Free Trade agreement, the precursor of the WTO.

Interesting? Mildly. Entertaining? No. ‘The Yes Men’ is a disappointing documentary that seems incomplete, anxious to wave around its 2 Moore interviews to justify a theatrical release.
Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

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