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Spurlock needs no gimmicks in hunt for Osama bin Laden

Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden? (PG-13) (93 min.) — Morgan Spurlock pulled a nifty switch with his breakthrough film Super Size Me, selling it as one man's tilt against junk food windmills while delivering a lecture on obesity that wouldn't have attracted attention without his masochistic gimmick. The same ploy works again, but with a different topic.

Spurlock doesn't seriously believe he'll find the world's most sought-after terrorist. If he had, we would know by now. What he does discover and wittily passes along is that wherever bin Laden is, he's better off not being found by some Middle Easterners he violently claims to represent.

The impending birth of Spurlock's first child makes him wonder what kind of terrifying world the baby will inherit. If he can capture bin Laden — because action movies prove one man can do anything — the child has a chance to live peacefully. Spurlock gets vaccinated for everything, takes crash courses in languages and self-defense, and goes globe-trotting to anywhere the terrorist and people he knows have lived.

First stop: Egypt, where a surprising number of citizens believe the United States wants to occupy their nation. Why? Because the U.S. government backed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek through decades of oppressive rule, same as a litany of dictators briskly described in cartoons. Each is justified by Franklin Roosevelt's comment about Rafael Trujillo: "He's an SOB but he's our SOB."

From Morocco to Palestine to Afghanistan, Spurlock meets with citizens trapped in poverty and politics. They bemoan the image of Islam being defined by suicide bombers and the killing of innocents. He doesn't make much of the fact that his harshest reception comes from Hasidic Jews in Israel, whom the United States historically supports.

Spurlock's habit of injecting himself into the story isn't as distracting here as it was in Super Size Me. The subplot of his wife's pregnancy makes his camera's focus upon parents and children personal and effective. The story is framed like a high-tech video game, a nice slice of satire. He finds humor in tense moments, such as a bomb threat in Tel Aviv and a trip to Tora Bora, where someone wishes to build a tourist attraction and amusement park.

People and places get blurry with Spurlock's breakneck pacing, or perhaps that is his point. National boundaries shouldn't separate peaceful ideals. Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden? isn't a Michael Moore-style rant; it is a movie summed up by Elvis Costello's song played over the credits, What's So Funny ('Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?) A

Steve Persall, Times film critic

Spurlock needs no gimmicks in hunt for Osama bin Laden 04/16/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 16, 2008 4:31am]
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