Here's a movie you can form an opinion on based on the title alone: "Al Franken: God Spoke." Love Al Franken and his left-wing political views? This is for you! Prefer right-wing commentators? Skip it! Hooray! My work is done here.
Directed by Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus (who worked together on the excellent "Startup.com" and the 1993 Clinton election doc "The War Room"), "Al Franken: God Spoke" is a rather unfocused documentary about the former "Saturday Night Live" writer's efforts to launch Air America Radio, to campaign for John Kerry in the 2004 election, and to memorialize Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone after the latter's death in 2002.
If that sounds like a lot for one documentary to cover, it is. It's not a biography of Franken, nor does it have a central story that it seeks to tell. Instead, it's simply a video diary, a two-years-in-the-life fly-on-the-wall account of Franken's public deeds.
That scope ought to be narrowed, but the film is still pretty entertaining in places, owing to Franken's intelligence (sorry, conservatives, there's no disputing he's a smart guy) and quick wit. He used to be a comedy writer and performer, after all. Becoming an activist or pundit tends to make people less funny -- see also Rosie O'Donnell -- but Franken can still fire off a disarming one-liner better than most people can.
The film captures Franken's run-ins with several foes, including Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly, as well as some hobnobbing with Michael Moore, Hillary Clinton and Al Gore. Franken comes across as passionate, certainly, often infuriated by what he views as hypocrisy and dishonesty, but we never really get attached to him as a person. His disappointment over the outcome of the 2004 presidential election is made clear in the doc's footage, but it's not like we had a huge amount of emotion invested in him. Besides, we knew before the movie began that he had backed the losing horse.
A major part of being a satirist is recognizing mankind's foibles and absurdities, and that skill also makes for a good political analyst. Franken has it up to a point, but he still suffers from the same tunnel vision that afflicts most people in his profession: the belief that the things they accuse the other side of never apply to them, too.
The OTHER guys lie and distort facts. The OTHER side engages in name-calling and muckraking. Even if they admit that they do it, too, it's always couched in terms like, "OK, both sides distort the facts sometimes. But THEY do it way more than we do!!" (Or: "But THEY started it!") Is it any wonder people like me are irritated by the whole thing and avoid talk radio altogether?
Included with the disc is a 40-page booklet describing Docurama's impressive collection of documentaries available on DVD.
As for the DVD itself, there are no subtitles or alternate-language tracks.
VIDEO: It's fullscreen and, being a documentary, was originally shot on location on digital video, so there's a limit to how great it's going to look. The picture is generally crisp and clear, though, without major flaws.
AUDIO: A basic Dolby Digital Stereo mix. Nothing special, but it's fine for what we're dealing with here.
EXTRAS: The only real extra is 12 minutes of deleted scenes, which could have been cut randomly. They're no better or worse than anything that made it into the film.
There are also text biographies of the filmmakers, the film's theatrical trailer, and trailers for other Docurama films.
While it's not brilliant or revelatory, it should be fun for liberals or moderates to watch it as a lark. I can't imagine a conservative enjoying it at all, considering it's all about Al Franken, and considering he goes out of his way to make conservative voices like Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly look bad (not that they need his help). If Franken's politics are close to your own, give it a rent and enjoy.