Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock decides to make the world a safer place for his unborn child. He travels to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan for a showdown with the world's worst enemy.
Though funny, entertaining and at times thought-provoking, Morgan Spurlock’s new film is burdened by the expectations of that title. After all, his last effort, Super Size Me, presented Spurlock as an unlikely people's champion, risking his health to prove the deleterious effects of a junk food diet and forcing McDonald's into a drastic rethink on their high-pressure sales techniques. So when, after a very funny opening montage of cartoon Bin Ladens, jigging furiously to MC Hammer's 'U Can't Touch This', Spurlock announces his quest to find the terror paymaster, there seems a very real possibility that he might just do that.
Spurlock certainly seems to take the challenge seriously, and the first act is taken up with him getting his jabs and taking a self-defence course. But once he lands in Egypt, it becomes clear that this is going to be more anecdotal than journalistic, and the film settles into a pattern of talking-head interviews, as Spurlock gets to know the locals. Ever now and then he'll fold Osama into the mix, but the joke – 'cheekily' asking passers by if they know where he is – soon wears thin.
A quick trip to Saudi Arabia, where the tanned, bearded and robed director is starting to blend in, is a little more disturbing in its observations on Islamic culture. But it's in Afghanistan where Spurlock seems most likely to deliver on the title's promise. Though he does pose the question to the right people this time – the military – he seems awfully satisfied with their answers, which are something along the lines of "dunno".
But why doesn't anyone know? Surely, in a time when today's news is tomorrow's YouTube, there's got to be a reason for this one glaring omission in the world's collective knowledge? But if there is, Spurlock chooses not to look for it. The trouble with this film is that it simply uses that provocative title as a hook, and once you're in, all you'll learn is that Bin Laden may or may not be alive, possibly in Pakistan, that some people admire him and quite a lot more do not. Maybe this kind of thing will be better received in America, where such far-off cultures need to be humanised for the masses, but over here, Morgan Spurlock Has A Quick Nose Round The Muslim World would be a more honest title.
A frustratingly soft documentary that would sooner teach the world to sing than get to the bottom of the Bin Laden enigma.
Reviewed by Damon Wise