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Notorious activists the Yes Men (Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum) have staged outrageous hoaxes to hijack public dialogue worldwide about the issues of the day. In their third cinematic outing, they are now well into their 40s, and their mid-life crises are threatening to drive them out of activism forever – even as they prepare to take on the biggest challenge they’ve ever faced, climate change.

2.5 out of 4 stars

Title
The Yes Men Are Revolting
Directed by
Laura Nix, Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno
Starring
Mike Bonanno, Andy Bichlbaum, Gitz Crazyboy
Genre
Documentary
Country
Netherlands, Denmark, France, Germany, USA
Language
English

Political seriousness and a sense of humour can be compatible: In the guerilla-theatre, media-manipulating late 1960s, the Yippies summoned the world's media to watch them levitate the Pentagon. Feminists belonging to a loose organization called Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (W.I.T.C.H.) dressed as witches and put hexes on male bastions of power.

Pranking has lost much of its freshness, though, in this post-Borat era of put-on comedy, viral advertising and stunt reality shows. This congestion of culture jamming takes some of the bite out of The Yes Men Are Revolting, the latest film from the duo of New York artist-activists and documentary filmmakers who go by the names Andy Bichlbaum (Jacques Servin) and Mike Bonanno (Igor Vamos). Back in the Bush era, you know, this stuff was wicked.

The Yes Men's most famous stunts include a creating a fake George Bush website during the 2000 election, and announcing the demise of the World Trade Organization, as well as offering apologies by corporate and political malefactors. In each case, the payoff comes when the media interviews the pranksters, and their targets are forced to respond.

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The Yes Men Are Revolting is the team's third and most personal film (it follows The Yes Men in 2003 and The Yes Men Fix the World in 2009). The tone is almost elegiac.

By now, The Yes Men are middle-aged artist-academics, who have little to show for the past 15 years of media boat-rocking. In the course of the film, shot over several years, Vamos's wife gives birth to the couple's third child and they move to Scotland for the free health care.

Back in New York, Servin is struggling to balance teaching, new actions and finding time to keep a new boyfriend. We learn more about The Yes Men's family histories (Jewish Holocaust survivors on both sides) and hear a lot about their despair of ever cracking the fortress of corporate and political power.

Meanwhile, they keep trying through a succession of new actions, focusing primarily on climate change. Helped with their network of supporters, The Yes Men rent space in the National Press Club for a media conference and earn instant network headlines by pretending to be the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a lobby group closely connected to the oil industry, when they declare support for climate-change legislation.

Later, at the international climate-change conference in 2009 in Copenhagen, they conspire with a Ugandan activist, Benadette Chandia Kodili, to announce that Canada had agreed to pay billions in "climate debt" to Third World countries in compensation for the environmental costs of the Alberta tar sands development.

Each of these actions might make a good sequence on a weekly television show, if you could find a sponsor. Strung together, though, they tend to feel formulaic. Throughout there are bits of animation and chatty voice-over, as The Yes Men discuss potential environmental catastrophe, Arctic melting and methane-filled atmosphere in simple, grade-school language.

The Yes Men Are Revolting finds an optimistic place to stop, as the two pals are reinspired by the populist risings of the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement of a couple of years ago. It's a shame those events are already several revolutions ago in the news cycle.

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