Osama quest is a long journey that's short on accomplishment

Posted: April 18, 2008

America wants to know. And from Albania to Zimbabwe, so does everyone else. Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden? asks, but does not answer, this question. Maybe because filmmaker Morgan Spurlock poses the query purely for rhetorical effect.

Spurlock? He's the affable documentarian who made Super Size Me, subsisting on Big Macs for a month - to prove that fast food makes you fat.

He's the folksy figure who visits Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Afghanistan and Pakistan ostensibly hunting for al-Qaeda's architect - to prove that Osama is one slippery mountain viper.

In Spurlock's defense, Super Size Me resulted in McDonald's suspension of its "super size" promotions. Likewise in his defense, Osama is a mildly amusing parody of the conventions of the Hollywood action film, in which the lone hero single-handedly faces down evil, even if it has little to do with its title figure.

Still, sending Spurlock to find bin Laden is like sending Borat to negotiate peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. (On the other hand, if you were to dispatch someone to find an elusive terrormonger, the crusading Kazakh with his Inspector Clouseau cluelessness almost certainly would blunder into the right cave.)

Spurlock's intermittently entertaining travelogue ultimately reveals that people in disparate countries of different religions and wildly divergent ideologies are more alike than not.

His odyssey, as it turns out, is triggered not by geopolitics but by Gee-whiz, I'm about to be a dad and I'm worried about bringing a child into this cockeyed caravan.

Moviegoers will decide for themselves whether decamping for the Middle East during the wife's second and third trimesters is an investigation in the public interest or a symptom of daddy panic. Surely it is harder to fasten a bulletproof vest than the tabs of a diaper?

Structured like the popular computer game Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, the movie boasts hip graphics and includes a diverting mock music video of Osama grooving to the beats of "U Can't Touch This." It is designed to charm rather than to edify. Genial Spurlock is the Ryan Seacrest of reality filmmaking, vamping for the camera while ducking the crossfire.

Spurlock goes to Pakistan and is told on good authority that bin Laden is in Afghanistan. He goes to Afghanistan and is told on good authority that bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan.

He tours bomb-pocked schools in the West Bank and in Afghanistan and has this revelation: No matter your politics or religion or place in the universe, you want your kids to be educated and safe. Amen to that, brother, but did you have to go to Tora Bora to realize it?

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, Flickgrrl, at http://go.philly.com/flickgrrl/

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