- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 30, 2004

The left has had a humor problem for what seems like forever. It sees injustice and rapine everywhere, and there’s nothing funny about that.

In contrast, satirists with conservative temperaments — from Jonathan Swift to H.L. Mencken to Christopher Buckley — look at “all the trouble in the world” (to use P.J. O’Rourke’s phrase) and believe it has something to do with the folly of incorrigible human nature.

And there is something funny about that.

For a while, it seemed that left-libs such as Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo were trying to inject some laughing gas into their indignant progressive audiences. But President Bush is driving them all batty and sucking the comedy out of them faster than Michael Moore racing for second helpings at the buffet table.

So “The Yes Men,” a comic curio in the rubble of nonfiction political documentaries this year, should have brought relief. Alas, it doesn’t. Its failure has nothing to do with an allergy here to protectionist-populist politics; it has to do with the fact that the movie is deadly dull.

The Yes Men, for the uninitiated, are a group of anti-globalization pranksters. They’re the smaller, more mobile commando unit of the mau-mauers who descend on meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Their gripe is that free trade, unmoored from concern for human and environmental costs, is killing the Third World.

Here’s their infiltration hook: They host a Web site that looks exactly like the World Trade Organization’s.

It will not surprise you to learn that the event-planning functionaries and chat-show talent bookers of the world often fail to catch its fakery. And so Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno — the Yes Men with starring roles here — often get official invites to economic seminars and trade confabs. Once, they landed a talking-head slot on the European CNBC outlet.

The possibilities for guerrilla mischief and political slam-dunks should be endless, right?

Wrong.

I don’t know how to emphasize this enough, but “The Yes Men” pretty much turns on the fact that people can’t sniff out the hoax. The Yes Men don’t know whether to laugh or cry, and chances are, you’ll do neither.

For example, when Mr. Bichlbaum reveals he’s wearing a gold bodysuit with an eye-level “employee visualization appendage” jutting from his crotch, attached to which is a video screen on which managers can monitor their employees’ every move, the assembled Finnish business execs basically shrug off the entire thing.

Mr. Bichlbaum and Mr. Bonanno try to convince the viewer that their stunts are just believable enough, that the multinational business elite doesn’t think it’s such a crazy idea to turn workers into Orwellian wage slaves.

But we in the nation’s capital know better. We’ve been to more brown-bag Q-and-As on the Hill, Renaissance Weekends and think-tank roundtables than the Yes Men could ever endure.

The open secret is that no one gives their undivided attention to these things — especially at the kind of junkets the Yes Men crash. (They jet from Paris to Finland to Austria.) Eventually, in Australia, they’re sussed out by an audience of university students. (Is it just coincidence that the Yes Men are understood best at that level?)

What we’re left with is a lot of jet lag and hotel downtime, starring a few Americans blessed — by capitalism and lefty foundation grants — with the good fortune of not having to hold real jobs.

Only in America.

**

TITLE: “The Yes Men”

RATING: R (Some profanity and sexual suggestiveness)

CREDITS: Directed by Chris Smith, Dan Ollman and Sarah Price. Produced by Mr. Smith and Miss Price. Edited by Mr. Ollman.

RUNNING TIME: 83 minutes.

WEB SITE: www.theyesmenmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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