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The Yes Men
featuring: Andy Bichlbaum, and Mike Bonnano
directors: Dan Ollman, Sarah Price, and Chris Smith

81 minutes (tbc) 2003
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonnano don't look like art terrorists. One tall, greying and distinguished, the other small, dark and intense, they look completely normal, fading into the background of any crowd. However, between them they are responsible for two of the most famous anarchist pranks of the last ten years. Bonnano led the 'Barbie Liberation Organisation' a group who broke into Toymaster, swapped the voice chips in GI Joe and Barbie dolls then repackaged them. When this was made public, Bonnano appeared on TV claiming that he and his group were less radical than Santa Claus because they at least didn't break into people's homes.

Bichlbaum for his part is responsible for hacking Sim Copter, an early 1990s' instalment in the hugely successful Sim series that had the player flying a helicopter around simulated cities, carrying out various tasks. Thanks to Bichlbaum, the inhabitants of the city were transformed into trunks-clad gay musclemen every Friday 13th and the game was withdrawn.

With this sort of elaborate prank under their belts, it only made sense for the two men to get together and as a result, 'The Yes Men' were born. Bonnano and Bichlbaum were given www.gatt.org - the domain name of the World Trade Organisation's predecessor. They created a site that closely resembled the WTO's own but was openly critical of their practices, and left it at that.

Then the emails started.

Periodically, people searching for the WTO website found www.gatt.org and emailed them, assuming they were the WTO. Bichlbaum and Bonnano decided to play on, and the end result is somewhere between Mission: Impossible and direct action protests. Simply put, they became the public face of an organisation they fundamentally opposed.

You'd be forgiven for thinking this is less than gripping stuff but it becomes clear within the opening credits, as we see Bichlbaum frantically try and get into a gold body-stocking at a meeting, that this is not your usual documentary. Both these men are naturally funny and the situations they create are genuinely extraordinary to watch.

What really makes this is the polite way in which their increasingly outlandish ideas are received. The first third of the film deals with their presentation of a 'leisure suit', complete with immense phallus-shaped monitoring device that would allow managers to remote manage workers from a great distance.

The response is polite silence. That night, Hank Hardy Unruh, Bichlbaum's alias, is invited to sit at one of the top tables of the conference. What becomes clear very early on is that the Yes Men are either slightly too clever for their audiences or fit in a little too well. The polite interest with which they're greeted is both funny and slightly frightening. In fact, much of the film has a bleak feel, offset only by their dry run for a presentation on recycled food. Complete with some astonishingly poor taste graphics provided by a friend, they put the idea of recycling burgers that have already been eaten into third world foodstuffs. When they're booed off stage they seem genuinely relieved that someone at least is paying attention to what they're saying.

The Yes Men is an audacious and very funny look at two men's assault on globalisation. Whilst at times they go for easy targets, The Yes Men never fail to make their point and are a continual thorn in the side of global corporate culture. Activism has never been funnier and the WTO has never looked sillier. More power to them.
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