It’s been five years since the release of “The Yes Men,” the Chris Smith/Sarah Price documentary that brought Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno (the titular devils) to the mainstream. In the intervening years, their prank efforts have been ingenious and dangerous, but they’ve failed to make a lasting impact. Growing frustrated, the Yes Men have returned to the big screen, armed with a new round of hoaxes and misdirection, hoping to achieve their ultimate goal: changing the world.
The world’s been through so much since 2004, and in the eyes of Bichlbaum and Bonanno, matters have become dire. The free market has created beasts of industry, with corporations expanding to enormous proportions and few in power willing to step up and leash the disorderly cult of greed. Enter the Yes Men, who use their anonymity to conceive and execute pranks that underline the absurdity of corporate interest, hoping to create a bizarre impression that will allow true issues of importance to have a moment in the media spotlight. Armed with cheap suits, various faux corporate websites that attract interview and speaking opportunities, and considerable nerves, Bichlbaum and Bonanno travel around the world stirring up trouble for the betterment of mankind.
Taking over the directorial reins, Bichlbaum and Bonanno have turned their Yes Men project into something interestingly low-fi, dialing down the smugness that choked out the original documentary. “Fix the World” is a comedy piece, but the directors have a better grasp on the balance between silliness and anxiety, which makes for a stronger film. The Yes Men also come off more impassioned in the new picture, setting aside the shtick coma to actually put forth a feature that challenges the financial machine. Instead of something barely tolerable, Bichlbaum and Bonanno have returned with a passionate display of rascally intrepidness, working towards an impossible goal with their sneaky sense of humor and infinite imagination for farcical public displays.
The pranks in “Fix the World” are actually quite clever. To spotlight the continuing environmental devastation in Bhopal, India caused by Union Carbide, Bichlbaum poses as a Dow Chemical spokesman for a BBC broadcast, where he announces the corporation has decided to assume responsibility and spend billions to repair the enormous damage. To underline oil company greed, the Yes Men infiltrate a conference as Exxon reps, passing around candles made from a special new source of fuel: humans. And as HUD employees, Bichlbaum and Bonanno crash a New Orleans seminar on redevelopment to highlight the grip of corruption, also presenting inflatable survival suits to interested parties failing to see the ridiculousness of an inflatable survival suit.
The pranks are cruel to a certain extent, and what surprised me about “Fix the World” is how Bichlbaum and Bonanno address the discomfort that comes from spreading false hope. Obviously, they don’t crucify themselves (footage of the needy praising the team for their antics is included), but the guilt is refreshing, even admitting that some of their tactics just aren’t all that funny.
Much like Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story,” “The Yes Men Fix the World” eventually settles into wake-up call mode, hoping to rouse passion for change and open a few eyes along the way. Their message is a tricky one to decode with all the monkey business taking center stage, but the newfound energy behind the Yen Men concept makes for persuasive cinema.Rating: B