AL FRANKEN: GOD SPOKE

NR
Reviews

This entertaining cinéma-vérité piece follows comedian Al Franken as he vexes and annoys political conservatives during both his book tour and the formation of the progressive Air America radio network. For much of its length, Al Franken: God Spoke seems pointless, doing nothing more than documenting all the jousting, but the climax reveals something topical and newsworthy. Eventually, perhaps in a few months' time, the film will become even more relevant.

Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus, two of the filmmakers behind the 1992 political-junkie classic The War Room, return with another film about liberals and Democrats fighting conservatives and Republicans. Whereas The War Room concerned the entire inside team that helped Bill Clinton get elected President, Al Franken: God Spoke focuses on one man, Franken himself.

In between scenes from Franken's 2003 tour promoting his best-seller, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, and his efforts to launch Air America, Doob and Hegedus provide some background about the New York native: his Jewish upbringing, his early interest in both comedy and politics, his success on television, and his family life. Mostly, however, the directors show Franken speaking to college audiences (recounting his success against a lawsuit brought by Bill O'Reilly and Fox News), crashing a G.O.P. schmoozefest (where he imitates Henry Kissinger for Henry Kissinger), entertaining the troops in Iraq (where he portrays a buffoonish Saddam Hussein), and campaigning for Democrats during the 2004 Presidential contest between John Kerry and George W. Bush (during which he is vaguely threatened by Republican convention operatives).

Late in the running time, following the crushing election results, it is revealed that Franken is throwing his hat in the ring for the 2008 Senate race. After witnessing Franken argue with various conservative hacks and politicos (including usual sleazy suspects like Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity), the "surprise" of Franken seriously running (or at least seriously considering running) against Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota isn't that much of a surprise. But it does add resonance and meaning to a film that otherwise is just a collection of fun bits (e.g., the new political routines, and clips from Franken's appearances on "Saturday Night Live," dating back to the 1970s).

Al Franken emerges as the opposite of Jack Tanner, Robert Altman's eponymous anti-hero, and he doesn't look as though he would fall into the traps set for Bill McKay, the Robert Redford character in The Candidate. On the other hand, at the end of the film, the funny, genuine, "real" person in Franken learns he probably shouldn't tell a certain joke (a Buddy Hackett classic) if he is going to run for the Senate or the raunchy moment will come back to haunt him. (It may anyway, since it is on film.) Thus, Al Franken: God Spoke is a cautionary tale--the title of the film and opening "God and Al" sketch notwithstanding--and, sadly, it appears Franken's new political venture isn't so ordained after all.