The Yes Men Fix the World
Dir. Andy Bichlbaum & Mike Bonanno
In 2004, The Yes Men, a documentary chronicling the ballsy antics of social activists-cum-pranksters Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum, garnered an overwhelmingly positive critical response. But it never quite garnered the cult following its anarchic satire seemed predestined to attract. Perhaps its attacks on capitalism came a few years too late, when the zeitgeist had already zeroed in on the Middle East and the Left’s concerns about the World Trade Organization, the film’s main target, were replaced by “No Blood for Oil” protests. Unfortunately, timing is everything for a political documentary.
Five years later, Bonanno and Bichlbaum return to the big screen, attempting to recapture the magic (and perhaps even an actual audience, this time) in The Yes Men Fix the World. This time, the duo's major feat is a stealth assault on Dow Chemicals, a stunt intended to make the corporation responsible for the 18,000 deaths caused by a gas leak in one of their plants in Bhopal. The film also includes a handful of lesser vignettes, including one that focuses on HUD’s mishandling of the post-Katrina situation in New Orleans and another that involves inventing a ridiculous flotation device dubbed a SurvivaBall on behalf of Halliburton. The Yes Men's antics are familiar – posing as corporate and government representatives to champion their version of the truth and point out the blatant absurdities of the ideologies of those they oppose – but here they feel stale. Part of the problem is that it's hard to top the satirical heights they achieved in their first film, which showed the pair posing as McDonald’s and WTO reps to give a speech about filtering human feces from the First World to Third-World countries to be refined and repackaged as “McShit” burgers. But the duo also seems too focused on justifying their own controversial actions and harping on the humor element in the sequel.
The original Yes Men had an almost guerilla-warfare appeal to it - a sense that, in order to pull these pranks off, Bonanno and Bichlbaum had to always be on their toes. This nervous energy is what swept the audience up in the men's capers. The Yes Men Fix the World abandons that improvisational element and ends up coming across as too pre-packaged, giving the impression that the filmmakers are trying too hard to capture what the first film effortlessly achieved. Too many jokey interludes and over-the-top caricatures disrupt the doc's flow and take the satire further from reality than necessary. The Dow Chemicals prank, executed on international television in front of an audience of millions, was an impressive achievement. But despite the power of their subject matter, the duo's newest film lacks the satirical bite and youthful exuberance that made the original go down so easily. To sum up in an admittedly harsh analogy, Fix the World is the “McShit” to Yes Men’s fresh, organic, all-beef patty.