Can a bunch of pranksters humiliate a corporation? One man did, back in 1989, when a nobody named Michael Moore skewered an exploitative General Motors. But in the two decades since, most people have become inured to both the doublespeak of big-business spin and the activists who seek to expose it.
Enter the Yes Men—codirectors Bichlbaum and Bonanno—con artists who create doppelgnger websites for Fortune 500 companies and government agencies, finagling speaking invites to misrepresent those entities at public forums. A BusinessWeek version of Punk’d, they were featured in an eponymous 2003 film, in which they posed as representatives of the WTO and endorsed such policies as literally making Third World citizens eat shit (by encouraging McDonald’s to repurpose excrement into discount hamburgers).This time around, they promote morally admirable (if fictional) outcomes: Dow pays $12 billion in long-denied reparations for the gas leak in Bhopal, India; HUD restores New Orleans wetlands instead of razing affordable housing. The stunts are exhilarating, as much for their audacity as for the gullibility of their targets. But once the ruse is exposed, the short-term gain of humanist outrage evaporates into the chum of an obfuscating news cycle. God bless their antics, but the Yes Men’s jestful jousting feels more like tilting at windmills.—Stephen Garrett
Now playing; Film Forum.