`Yes Men': Witty send-up of the WTO


October 08, 2004|By Kevin Crust | Kevin Crust,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Changing the world one prank at a time" is the tagline for the documentary The Yes Men, but the word prank doesn't really do them justice.

Smart and amusing, the film is a record of activists Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno as they appeared at conferences around the world impersonating members of the World Trade Organization. We follow the Yes Men to Finland, Australia and Plattsburgh, N.Y., where, dressed in thrift store suits and armed with Powerpoint presentations, they aim to subvert corporate globalization while managing to have a good time.

The caper began after Bichlbaum and Bonanno created a Web site mimicking and satirizing the real WTO site. It was so convincing that they received questions on international trade, which they dutifully answered. They also received invitations to speak on behalf of the WTO at conferences, which they chose to accept.

Bichlbaum, a writer and artist based in Paris, serves as the front man. Bonanno, a media artist and instructor at Rensselaer Polytechnic in Troy, N.Y., poses as his assistant.

Much of the movie's comedy comes from the way audiences soak up the material. Their deadpan expressions and lack of reaction at first leads us to think they are not getting the Yes Men's message. However, interviews with lecture attendees back up the impostors' assertion that the bait is being taken.

The story could use more context, an interview with a representative of the WTO or some type of outside voice commenting on what impact, if any, their actions have had. Nevertheless, Yes Men has hit on an intriguing twosome whose clever, grass-roots brand of activism promotes satire as a legitimate form of revolt.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

The Yes Men

Directed by Chris Smith, Dan Ollman and Sarah Price

Rated R (language)

Released by United Artists

Time 81 minutes

Sun Score ***

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