Equal parts hagiography and hatchet job, outspoken talking-heads commentary and animated political cartoon, “I Want Your Money” could find a receptive audience among the ranks of those who think the best of former President Reagan and suspect the worst of President Obama. Judging from the opening-weekend B.O. numbers ($279,000 from more than 500 screens), however, most targeted viewers won’t join the choir preached to by filmmaker Ray Griggs until his right-skewing agitprop documentary is available in homevid formats.
Indie producer Griggs serves as host and narrator of the docu, which he characterizes early on as a thankful tribute to capitalism and “this great country that we call America,” and a pointed counterpoint to the output of “Hollywood liberals (who) criticize the very system they profit from.” Pic is designed to scrutinize “two versions of the American Dream,” contrasting the economic boom of the Reagan era — which was fueled, Briggs argues, by unregulated, free-market capitalism — with the financial malaise of the present day. Of course, this quick-serve comparison conveniently overlooks other factors; as the recent “Inside Job” emphasizes, our current financial crisis can be traced to the unregulated, free-market implosion of the subprime mortgage market — but never mind.
Griggs rounds up several conservative politicians, economists and commentators (including two, former attorney general Edwin Meese III and Wall Street Journal writer Stephen Moore, who helpfully provided admiring blurbs for the pic’s newspaper ads) who decry what they see as the root of the problem: Obama’s reckless tax-and-spend policies, which reflect “a long line of liberal thinking” that previously inspired the likes of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter.
The big difference with Obama, interviewees repeatedly insist, is his “very socialist view of America,” which will lead to government-mandated redistribution of wealth unless … unless … well, unless Republicans can pull off in 2010 an electoral revolution similar to the one they managed in 1994.
To be fair, Griggs and most of his interviewees sound calm and reasonable, avoiding the furiously angry tone common to talkradio hosts and other right-wing proselytizers. Pic doesn’t start to actively celebrate the Tea Party movement until its final 10 minutes (in the closing credits, Griggs offers a grateful shoutout to “everyone involved with the Tea Party,” and to Fox News.) And even though Obama is branded as a socialist dozens of times throughout the pic, no one ever raises the issue of his status as an American-born citizen.
Even the most rabidly left-wing viewers may giggle during several sequences of 3D CGI animation in which cartoon figures representing Obama and Reagan — and, among others, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Sarah Palin and Richard Nixon — comically interact in conservative-themed parables. The Nixon and Bush avatars actually are the butts of several genuinely funny jokes, while Clinton is pummeled with predictable but amusing allusions to his womanizing.
Obama, too, gets smacked with a few cheap shots — at one point, he lights a cigarette and props his feet up on his Oval Office desk — but the humorous tweaks never turn nasty. Reagan, of course, comes across as an avuncular sage with a hearty chuckle, a rapier wit and — there he goes again! — an endless supply of quips in support of conservative economic theories.
Tech values for pic’s live-action sequences are adequate.