In this review, Judge Ian Visser fights "The War on the War on the War against Bad Documentaries." With your help, we all win.
Is the American "war on drugs" an attempt to protect our youth and restrict the spread of violence in our country? Or is it a method of expanding government power and control over a large segment of the population who are just looking to get high and chill out for a while?
There has been a steady increase in recent years of the "one-sided" documentary. These films, often from the fringes of the political spectrum, are only interested in providing one side of an argument, rather than presenting a balanced look at a person or issue. Michael Moore is probably the best-known example of this kind of filmmaker; his Fahrenheit 9/11 had little interest in examining any other view of the Iraq War and the subsequent "war on terror" than that held by its creator. Other recent examples have included Why we Fight, This Film is Not Yet Rated, and Bush's Brain. Some of these are excellent films, but they do not attempt to present balanced viewpoints on an issue. They have a point already in mind, and assemble their evidence in an attempt to substantiate it.
The difficulty with such efforts is that they rarely appeal to anyone not holding the same opinion. My recent review of The Bush Crimes Commission Hearings is a perfect example; the movie is so bias and slanted (I mean, check out the title) that nobody with an opposing or contradictory position is ever going to be swayed by the movie, assuming they even bother to watch it. As a result, such efforts spend their entire time preaching to the choir, not to new candidates with the potential for conversion. The War on the War on Drugs, however, doesn't merely preach to the choir; it runs out of the church and beats up anyone who belongs to a different faith.
The War on the War on Drugs presents various segments and skits designed to convince you that the current battle against the pervasion of drugs in our society is misguided, wasteful, and threatening to our civil rights. The tone here is a mocking one; the film takes the freak-out movies of the 1930s, the anti-reefer scare-films of the 1950s, and the various public service announcements created by the government and re-makes them as sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek commentaries on the drug war. The suggestion here is that if we permitted the legalization of narcotics, we would have far more resources available to fight real crime, and we could stop imprisoning harmless drug users who only wish to get high and mellow out.
That certainly sounds like the basis for an investigation into the current drug policy in America. There are many facets of the drug war that result in the abuse of power and waste valuable resources. But The War on the War on Drugs doesn't want to make this kind of movie. Rather, it claims that drugs are awesome, mind-expanding mana from heaven. They are harmless, cool, and allow you to escape the controlling prison that society is trying to shove you into. Take drugs and you can stick it to the Man, end war, and make the world a better place. And if you don't take, like, or support drugs? Well, you're an asshole, for starters. You are also a fascist, a narrow-minded tool of the government, and an all-around uptight dude who is bumming it out for the rest of the peaceful, freedom-loving population that just wants to get freaky.
Yes, the battle lines drawn in The War on the War on Drugs are that black and white. Pick a side, dude, 'cause if you ain't down with us, you're down with them. There's nothing in this film that approaches anything like a balanced argument, only a sharp and piercing screed against not just the current drug policy, but and drug policy. If the makers of The War on the War on Drugs had their way, drugs would be available at the local 7-11, at drive-thorough stalls, and handed out on Halloween instead of candy. Even more astonishing, the film doesn't even attempt to distinguish between "softer" forms of drugs, such as marijuana and hashish, and "hard" drugs like heroin and cocaine during the course of its arguments. As far as this effort is concerned, drugs are drugs, and drugs are good. End of story.
The War on the War on Drugs ultimately fails because it simply isn't any good. It makes its point in the first five minutes of the film, and then spends the next seventy minutes repeating it over and over again. The skits are cheaply made, painfully obvious, and equal to anything a ninth-grader with a video camera could come up with. Most of the arguments are spurious, at best. Founding father George Washington grew weed, so we should all be allowed to as well. Timothy McVeigh wasn't on drugs when he blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma, so drugs must therefore be good. Funds spent on anti-drug ads have meant that we could have saved the environment by now, if only we didn't waste money telling our kids that drugs are bad. Michael Bolton doesn't take drugs, and his music sucks, so we should all take drugs to prevent awful music.
The most galling element of this whole thing is the inability of director Cevin Soling to see the holes in his own arguments. He slanders government anti-drug messages as propaganda, and then proceeds to take all of the same elements he critiques and apply them back on his own target. And as for overthrowing the "oppressive regime currently running America," how is that supposed to happen when the entire population is in their basements watching lava lamps and giggling at Family Guy re-reruns? Wouldn't a stoned and self-pacified population be more likely to be abused and manipulated by a government interested in destroying individual rights than a sober one?
There is certainly room for debate on issues such as legalization, decriminalization, or free-needle exchanges, but a film like this only harms the efforts of those legitimately trying to alter drug policy in the United States. Showing this film to anyone on the opposite side of the legalization issue isn't going to produce a convert, but will likely only make their opinion more stalwart in the face of such ridiculous material. Empty of statistics or evidence, nothing seems intended by The War on the War on Drugs except to get a bunch of people to yell, "Right on, man!" at their television sets while dipping their hands into a giant bowl of Cheetos.
The War on the War on Drugs consists largely of material deliberately altered to match the time period it is mocking, so it isn't easy to give the video component a clear grade. For the most part the image is solid, with only some minor artifacts in occasional spots. The audio mix is nothing to yell about, but it gets the job done and will be easily heard over the background noise of "Crosstown Traffic" while the average viewer looks on.
Extras consist of several deleted scenes, a trailer, and an audio commentary by director Cevin Soling and producer Dan Cornfeld. The pair sound outgoing and gregarious, and give an insider's view on their opinions and choices made for the film. They sound like a couple of smart guys, so it's even more disappointing that they couldn't come up with a better result. The deleted scenes follow the same routine as the remaining footage, so it's merely more of the same nonsense.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Disinformation Company
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