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Review: 'Bin Laden' too much after 'Super Size Me'

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  • Morgan Spurlock sets out to find "Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?"
  • "Super Size Me" director checks out views in Mideast, Asia in new documentary
  • CNN.com critic: Spurlock's message is trite and belabored
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By Tom Charity
Special to CNN
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(CNN) -- Morgan Spurlock scored a breakout hit with his documentary "Super Size Me" a few years ago, mixing satire, reportage and advocacy in the tabloid style popularized by Michael Moore. Spurlock may not have finished off junk food as we know it, but at least he could claim some responsibility for highlighting the flaws of fast food.

Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock ponders the state of the world in "Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?"

In "Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?" he ups the ante with the kind of mission improbable that might make Ethan Hunt think twice. Where the CIA, the military and everyone else has failed, Spurlock proposes to sniff out the world's most wanted man, persuade him of America's good intentions and increase the peace before his latest work in progress -- his son -- pops out in a few months' time.

"After all," he reasons, "if big-budget action movies have taught me anything, it's that complicated global problems are best solved by one lonely guy." Video Watch Spurlock say why he made his journey »

Spurlock's tongue may be lodged deeply in his cheek, but he really does seem nervous as he submits to the first of several injections and inoculations and begins mapping out his campaign.

This involves a serious commitment to facial hair, some elementary Arabic lessons ("Don't take me; take the cameraman instead") and tips on pinpointing a sniper by reading blood splatter.

Spurlock and Stein
Watch Morgan Spurlock tangle with Ben Stein -- and talk about their new films -- on "Larry King Live."
Friday, 9 p.m. ET

It also extends to an aggressively post-production gloss, an animated Osama rap and jokey gamer graphics, all designed to goose an audience that wouldn't know PBS from the History Channel.

But the movie sobers up considerably as soon as Spurlock gets his feet on the ground. Perhaps recognizing that he's embarking on a lost cause, and a dangerous one at that, our intrepid mini-Moore takes the scenic route to bin Laden's presumed hideout.

In Egypt, Spurlock learns that democracy is not all that it seems and the U.S. has been propping up Hosni Mubarak for decades. In Morocco, Spurlock determines that poverty is a breeding ground for terrorism but, more important, that people are people.

There's more of the same in the Palestinian territories, with checkpoints and barbed wire thrown in. He rides shotgun with an Israeli bomb disposal unit and helps defuse a suspicious bikini, only to be roughed up by unfriendly Hasidic Jews.

"So many things are wrong on both sides," he confides unhappily that night. World peace may be trickier than he thought.

And so it goes. In Saudi Arabia, he unearths political repression and self-censorship. In Afghanistan, there seems to be some sort of war going on. Nobody can raise bin Laden on the phone, though several helpful natives point convincingly in the direction of the mountains. "Would it be dangerous for me to go there?" he asks, nervously. They laugh and reassure him that it would most certainly prove fatal.

You get the idea. Over and over again, actually.

Spurlock is hardly the first Western missionary to arrive in that part of the world and find that he's in over his head. Then again, maybe he never figured on defusing al Qaeda at all. Persuading extremists to go easy on the terror tactics one man at a time is a fool's game, but maybe he can persuade his more reactionary American compatriots to overcome their anti-Islamic prejudices.

It's a classic bait-and-switch. See, Muslims want a better life for their kids and a modicum of security and freedom, just like we do!

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That's a valid observation but not a very insightful one. Spurlock is a less adroit propagandist than Moore, a more mundane humorist and filmmaker. It's disappointing how quickly the invention dries up and we're left with banal, man-on-the-street interviews and a few faux-naif comic stunts: the Middle East for Dummies. Complicated global problems require something a bit more challenging than this.

"Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?" is rated PG-13 and runs 93 minutes. For Entertainment Weekly's take, click here. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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