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Seeker focused

Movies | Self-imposed exile poses as filmmaker's "search" for Osama bin Laden

Issue: "Food fight," May 3, 2008

Usually, when a first-time father leaves his pregnant wife for seven months, it's called abandonment. But when Morgan Spurlock does it, it's called research.

Spurlock, best known for abusing his body in the 2004 hit documentary Supersize Me, once again attempts to put himself at risk in his second feature debut, Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?

But whereas Spurlock's McDonald's diet served as a nutritional lesson and seemed like a real threat to his physical health, the risks in Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? have less to offer. Spurlock's new film makes the mistakes of many sequels-it's bigger, faster, and less interesting.

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If Spurlock has learned anything from big-budget action movies, "it's that complicated world problems are best solved by one lonely guy." Thus he uses a videogame premise to justify his one-man mission around the world in search of the world's most wanted figure.

Toward this end, Spurlock takes defense classes, receives various shots, and journeys to the Middle East to ask bin Laden's friends, family, and passersby where the world's No. 1 terrorist is hiding.

Of course, he never finds him. But Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? is much less about finding bin Laden than finding Morgan Spurlock.

While his vegan wife sits at home researching natural birthing techniques, Spurlock spends his time trying to figure out why the war on terror exists-and why he has been given so much money to figure it out.

Armed with an elementary estimation of world politics and his quick wit, Spurlock sets out looking for danger in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, and Pakistan. His affable attitude allows for some interviews that might not have happened otherwise, but he fails to produce much interesting footage. While his film does succeed in demonstrating the humanity of Muslims, it is a rather basic point.

And in lieu of a conclusion to the Osama problem, the audience is subjected to the birth of young Spurlock in a kiddie pool in his parents' living room, an addition into his foreign policy film that betrays the filmmaker's reflexive myopia. For all of his self-involvement, Spurlock doesn't seem very self-aware.

His easygoing wit often surpasses the false innocence of his onscreen persona, but the film's overwhelming self-satisfaction dominates. And for the most part, his search comes up empty-handed. There are a few scenes that border on thought-provoking. In Saudi Arabia, the students he speaks with are censored by their teachers. Orthodox Jews in Israel get physical with Spurlock and his team when he enters their neighborhood with his odd questions. Without a proper frame for the action, it's hard to tell if these subjects are right to want his intrusiveness out of their lives.

Spurlock finally starts to get at the danger his film advertises when he embeds with U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But the opportunity puts him in an unfavorable light.

At one point, whining about his self-inflicted exile on a lonely cot, Spurlock may pine for his wife or for the good movie that seems to be slipping from his grasp-it's hard to tell. Contrasted with the soldiers separated from their families to defend their country, Spurlock comes up rather short.

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