Morgan Spurlock’s big break was the excellent 2004 film Super Size Me, in which he acted as a human guinea pig, living (only just) on McDonald’s fast food. The beauty of that film was that all Spurlock had to do was eat the McRubbish and show how it affected him. Where in the World is Osama bin Laden? uses a similar formula. Spurlock is the everyman who goes on a hunt for the world’s most wanted man, ostensibly without any political agenda, hearing what people think about bin Laden, terrorism and the US.
The first 15 minutes of the film are, frankly, cringe-worthy. Spurlock finds that his wife is pregnant, so he decides to rid the world of Osama bin Laden, making the planet safer for his child. You are then treated to some bizarre computer generated scenes in which he fights bin Laden to music that sounds like it was stolen from the cutting room floor of Team America: World Police. He then learns what to do if he’s kidnapped, what injections he’ll need to travel, and so on. It feels like you might be watching “Morgan Spurlock’s Exciting Holiday”.
It starts to get moderately interesting when Spurlock starts his quest for Osama in Egypt. Through asking the opinions of ordinary Egyptians he finds a common theme: we like Americans, but we hate US foreign policy. Why? Because every US administration has supported the corrupt Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, since 1981. But there’s nothing of the strike waves that have recently hit Egypt, or the movements against the regime.
He then travels around the region doing similar things, but seems to forget the anti-imperialist argument. We see people being cagey and hostile towards him in the shopping malls of Israel and Saudi Arabia, and friendly and open to him in Palestine and Afghanistan. But his analysis of this is that there are some moderates in the region, and some extremists. He seems to have an anti-imperialist interpretation in his own mind, but it fails to reach the screen.
I have no doubt that Spurlock’s heart is in the right place – but this documentary seems clumsy, a bit like a cross between a Louis Theroux travelogue and Top Gear, if you can imagine such a thing. Do we really need to see him phone his girlfriend every few minutes to tell her he loves her, or learn to fire a rocket launcher with US marines in Afghanistan? Is this an adventure? A romance? A serious documentary?
If they’d cut half an hour of the adventurist elements this could have made an enjoyable, if flawed, television documentary. But despite seeing some occasionally interesting footage of “real people” you are left asking the question, what in the world is this film all about?
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