Anti-globalization pranksters Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno quiver with contradictions. As provocateurs The Yes Men, Bichlbaum and Bonanno are fearless in how they plan and execute elaborate, inventive pranks. Yet these clammy, anxious lefty wisenheimers seem perpetually coated in flopsweat. If Sacha Baron Cohen has ice water in his veins, The Yes Men appear to have insides of Jell-O. The duo are relentlessly idealistic in their vision of a progressive utopia, yet they traffic in unrelentingly dark, tasteless humor; while preparing for a prank in which they get attendees at a conference to hold candles ostensibly made of human flesh, one of the jokesters quips that their grandfathers would be turning in their mass graves if they could see what they were doing. (Bichlbaum and Engfehr’s grandfathers both died in the Holocaust.)
Chris Smith’s 2003 documentary The Yes Men introduced Bichlbaum and Bonanno to movie audiences. Bichlbaum and Bonanno, along with Kurt Engfehr, take over directing duties for the follow-up, Yes Men Fix The World, which finds the culture-jammers impersonating Dow Chemical and HUD representatives, masterminding a hoax edition of the New York Times, and generally engaging in monkeyshines designed to shame multi-national corporations and government bureaucracies into changing their ways.
Taking not just a page but the entire playbook from the personality-driven, smartass agitprop documentaries of Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, World piles on ironic public-domain cartoon clips, shameless mugging, condescending narration that reduces complex issues to smug sound bites, and gotcha interviews with pro-capitalist talking heads, including a gentleman who asks that his green-screen backdrop reflect his laissez faire belief that men should be free to pursue their goals without hindrance or government interference. The filmmakers acquiesce by sticking him in front of a homoerotic Tom Of Finland tableau. Actually, that last bit is pretty damn funny but too much of World feels clumsy and self-aggrandizing. Even the pranks that form the meat of the film have lost some of their novelty and freshness. Given the duo’s withering take on capitalism, it’s ironic that their stumbling second feature feels throughout like an infomercial for a shtick whose expiration date is rapidly approaching.