With about as much documentary credibility as “Borat,” “Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?” combines low comedy, high production values and the Middle East for what will surely be a hit, even as it delivers nothing new — let alone the world’s most elusive terrorist. Morgan Spurlock, of the “Super Size Me” phenom, serves up a rehash of others’ 9/11 reportage, bin Laden biography, Islamic theology and suicide-bomber psychology, in a tone so aghast you’d assume he knew nothing about the War on Terror — which should make pic very appealing for those who know nothing about the War on Terror.
Punctuated throughout by animation portraying bin Laden and Spurlock as videogame nemeses, the film begins with Spurlock, after learning his wife is pregnant, reacts drastically — by leaving home for the most troubled region on Earth. His reasoning: For his child to grow up in a safe world, he needs to find the world’s most wanted man.
If this were treated throughout for what it is, a joke, the film might have worked as comedy, which it occasionally does. But Spurlock, morphing into a kind of Katie-Couric-on-growth-hormones, decides he’s a goodwill ambassador for the United States.
Wandering from Muslim country to Muslim country, he sets out to validate his premise that Arabs are just like us, or at least more like us than they are like bin Laden. This is not hard to prove, since Spurlock has no method and no accountability. He’s not a journalist, but he plays one, even while violating the commandment against having conclusions first and proving them later.
On his whirlwind tour, Spurlock interviews normal people who all affirm his Rodney King-like premise that we all just want to get along. But why are we watching Spurlock interview anyone? The idea is ludicrous, but not ludicrous enough — he takes himself far too seriously, even while displaying righteous indignation in a manner that paints him as a cliched, uninformed American: Sitting in a just-shelled classroom in Israel, he talks about how awful it is to grow up where bombings are a daily threat. And we thought it was bin Laden who was living in a cave.
In one of his few unpleasant encounters, Spurlock barges into an ultra-orthodox Israeli neighborhood and is confronted, insulted and eventually driven out by locals angered either by his questions or his non-Jewishness. Or maybe they saw “Super Size Me.” Regardless, Spurlock remains until a crowd grows, police have to be called and things get physically violent. It’s juvenile, calling into question his motives and his sense of discretion.
“Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?” doesn’t really know what it wants to be. It’s a comedy, a political essay, a rumination on incipient fatherhood (yes, we get to see Spurlock’s baby being born) and a naif’s-eye survey of current events. The film could have served as a primer on the past 50 years of U.S.-Mideast history and post-9/11 developments if its flippancy didn’t disqualify it as such. People used to get upset about Jesse Jackson or Jimmy Carter operating in the sphere of foreign policy; imagine what they’ll think of Morgan Spurlock, who, if he’s so worried about America’s image being tarnished abroad, might consider staying home.
Tech credits, including the overtly silly animated sequences, are first-rate.