One of the funniest details of Randy Olson’s funny “Sizzle” is that a film designed to convince that global warming is a present danger may do precisely the opposite. Ingeniously blending elements of mockumentary and science film around a spoof of indie documaking, Olson finds he has a much tougher object to tackle this time than he did in his amusing pro-evolution film, “Flock of Dodos.” Though a non-skeptic himself, Olson grants solid global-warming skeptics screen time, ironically turning the hot issue into a real debate. Micro-distribs take note; vid biz will draw greenies and naysayers alike.
In his inviting, chummy voiceover, Olson explains that he wants to make a film that includes scientists on both sides of the climate-change issue, chiding Al Gore (and, indirectly, director Davis Guggenheim) for failing to do so in “An Inconvenient Truth.” His first problem is coming up with backers, and the ones he attracts are an even bigger problem: Flamboyant, ditzy gay couple Mitch (Mitch Silpa) and Brian (Brian Clark) agree to produce, but insist on featuring celebs (Tom Cruise and Kate Winslet top their list) and couldn’t care less about Olson’s cherished scientists.
Even worse, the pair is stuck with a two-man film crew, d.p. Marion (Alex Thomas) and sound man Antwon (Ifeanyi Njoku). Marion, loudly doubtful about Olson’s views on warming, proves a real irritant as the helmer tries to interview a range of global climate experts.
Marion habitually interrupts Olson during interviews, peeved at the likes of the calm, steady Jerry Meehl (stating the case for global warming) but hugely impressed by the assertive, authoritative Patrick J. Michaels (whose Cato Institute think tank is incorrectly identified as “conservative,” when it’s actually libertarian). This is where “Sizzle” shifts into a direction that perhaps Olson didn’t intend or foresee: The skeptics actually begin to win the day, at least onscreen, and Julia Bovey, spokeswoman for the environmentalist Natural Resources Defense Council, comes off as far less convincing than Olson may have hoped.
The film emerges, more skillfully than “Flock of Dodos,” as an exceedingly clever vehicle for making science engaging to a general audience, and also presents climate-change science in a more complex light than the overtly partisan “An Inconvenient Truth.” Olson admirably exposes himself to the counters of a potent voice like Michaels, who looks as though he could make a helluva good doc himself.
The comic undercurrent through it all is the Mitch-Brian tandem on one end, desperately searching Los Angeles for a celeb participant, and the Marion-Antwone team on the other, yielding a surprising twist with the aid of Olson’s spunky n’ funky real-life mom (memorably named Muffy Moose Olson). Finale in New Orleans is the pic’s only miscalculation: It shuts off the comedy and fails to make any scientific link between warming and hurricanes such as Katrina.
Olson serves as a terrific foil, unaware of what he’s doing with his movie, yet idealistically faithful to the scientific creed. Co-writer Njoku emerges with a surprising key perf, providing pic with just the right timely spark. Silpa and Clark push the flaming-queen stereotype right to the edge without sinking the comedy. Among the scientists, the impassioned arguments by UC San Diego’s Naomi Oreskes and Michaels leave lasting impressions.
Perhaps the most startling aspect for open-minded viewers is that rather than bringing the global-warming debate to a close, “Sizzle” reopens it, and only raises more questions.
Production package is quite fine on a micro-budget, with actor Matt Brady’s goofy antics in a polar-bear suit and the score by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s John McEuen adding light touches.