It's hard to make a really probing documentary about show-business types, because they're way too aware of how they come across on camera. Besides, there isn't much about the soul-sucking center of the entertainment industry left unexplored. But American Cannibal: The Road To Reality still stings. It's a depressing, at times mortifying look at young TV writing partners Dave Roberts and Gil Ripley, as they try to shore up their fledgling production company by pitching a reality show. Their initial idea is Virgin Territory, a contest that would line up a porn star to provide a virgin's first sexual encounter; while that pitch lures porn entrepreneur Kevin Blatt—the man who distributed the Paris Hilton sex tape—Blatt winds up more interested in another of Roberts and Ripley's ideas, to trick contestants for a Survivor-style reality game into thinking they're going to have to eat each other or be eaten.
American Cannibal is ostensibly about the phony, exploitative nature of reality TV, and though documentarians Perry Grebin and Michael Nigro hit that point too hard by piling up interviews with TV experts who speak in exaggerated cautionary tones, it's hard to deny the sickly feeling that arises while watching two smart, well-meaning guys sell their souls. Grebin and Nigro cheat a bit by keeping their own presence—and the way it may have convinced some people that Roberts and Ripley were legit—largely out of the movie, but the situation still feels all too real, from the way Blatt hustles his notorious Hilton connection to the way would-be reality-show stars eagerly offer to do anything to get on TV.
Something goes horribly awry with Roberts and Ripley's show before they can even complete a pilot, which is a shame, because while it lasts, it's fascinating to watch how reality TV really works: casting the host (Donny Most and Bruce Jenner both audition), shooting setups while the bored contestants lie around doing nothing, and so on. Still, no matter how Grebin and Nigro are selling it, American Cannibal isn't about the horrors of reality TV. It's about guys like Roberts and Ripley, who convince themselves that any job in show business would be preferable to waiting tables. One minute, they're slaving over their word processors, gleefully trying to write the perfect pitch. The next, they're backstage at one of Blatt's strip clubs, watching a naked woman dance with her tampon string hanging out. And glaring at each other, accusingly.