"The Yes Men" (IMDb listing) are two guys (Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum) who are fed up with global "free trade" practices and the World Trade Organization. With the help of a satiric Web site, Andy and Mike have found themselves often mistaken for the WTO, and invited to seminars as the organization's ambassadors. Sensing a ripe opportunity for tomfoolery, Andy and Mike decide to travel the globe staging pranks in the name of the WTO, attempting to open the world's eyes to the injustices and widespread devastation the group has caused since its inception.
"The Yes Men" is "Punk'd" with a master's degree. A mediocre idea made into a decent film, "Men" doesn't quite have the Teutonic-plate shifting power it suggests, nor the comedic value it assumes. Coming out in a hailstorm of political satires this year, "Men" is far more entertaining than enlightening.
The message of "Men" is a useful one. Not too many films take on the WTO, and filmmakers Chris Smith, Sarah Price, and Dan Ollman ("American Movie") have the good sense to not push the satire too hard, letting Mike and Andy do all the heavy lifting. At its heart, "Men" has the desire to change the world, which is praiseworthy. The film also welcomes back the mischievous spirit of Michael Moore's (who cameos) old "TV Nation" program. However, the actual pranks Mike and Andy play have little resonance beyond their own giggly fascination with corporate buffoonery.
Prank #1 consists of the two Yes Men heading to a European business conference (as WTO representatives) to reveal a golden executive jumpsuit -- featuring a large inflatable phallus -- that's capable of overseeing the workforce while executives enjoy the easy life. This is met with slight bewilderment by the corporate drones, but general disregard. Prank #2 has the boys pushing a Powerpoint presentation that suggests that McDonalds is considering a new program that would recycle feces into hamburgers to feed to starving nations. This prank never gets past a single classroom at a New York college, where the students stare on in expected disbelief.
Again, the pranks are entertaining and inventive, but Mike and Andy react a little too enthusiastically and arrogantly to their shenanigans, claiming bizarre victories when their exploits result simply in forgettable newspaper headlines or appearances on C-list cable shows. By the end of the film, Mike and Andy resort to lying in the name of "satire" to get their point across (they send out a press release about the WTO's disbanding), which brings up a whole hornet's nest of ethical questions that the filmmakers have no intention of addressing. The goal of the film is to reveal corporate indifference to such outlandish and offensive ideas, and that is captured well. Heavens, some of these pranks are even praised by the suits!
The true revelation of "Yes Men" comes at the end of the film, which posts information on how "you can be a Yes Man too." The filmmakers wait until the last possible moment to reveal their true intentions: that the picture is actually a recruiting tool meant to boost the numbers of this lukewarm satiric nation. This information certainly gives the film a much needed perspective that it didn't have before.
Filmfodder Grade: B-