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Political pundit battle royale

“Al Franken: God Spoke”

Balcony Releasing

Directed by Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus

With appearances by Al Franken, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and Michael Moore

Not rated/90 minutes

Opened Oct. 20, 2006

Two-and-a-half out of four stars

Al Franken’s rise from “Saturday Night Live” funnyman to aggressive political pundit/satirist for the left was undoubtedly an interesting journey. Too bad we don’t see much of that journey here in Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus’ meandering documentary “Al Franken: God Spoke.”

I suppose the aim of this film is more at the media wars that took place during the George W. Bush re-election campaign (and still going on), but we neither learn anything we didn’t already know from watching personalities like Franken, Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly pounce on each other on a daily basis, nor do we get any truly personal looks into Franken’s life that might give us a greater understanding of how he became the man he is today.

I’m not asking for any tidy, cause-and-effect, “at-that-point-Franken-knew-he-must-pursue-a-political-career” moments here. I just wanted to come away from this movie with more than a few chuckles at the expense of such humorless conservative targets as Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.

What I like about Franken is how he really seems to want to know what his opponents are saying (so he can point out their gaps in logic), whereas his opponents are content with simply bullying him. During a press conference, in response to Ann Coulter’s claim that he hates America (a grade school-level insult), Franken talks about his recent United Service Organization comedy tour and the medal he received. Coulter responds by making a lame joke about how long it took Franken to mention his medal and how someone owes her money now. Not too surprisingly, she’s the only one who laughs. Later, Coulter makes an appearance on O’Reilly’s show and they hem and haw about their superior sense of humor.

Now that’s funny.

The filmmakers follow Franken as he establishes Air America (a liberal radio talk show that goes on opposite Rush Limbaugh’s), speaks-out against Bush and considers running for a Senate seat in 2008. All very interesting, but when three minutes are wasted as Franken tries to disentangle the strap of his bag from the wheel of a rolling chair, you sort of get the feeling that the filmmakers had a dearth of meaty material to work with.

I’m not so interested in the politics of Franken, Limbaugh and O’Reilly as I am in the personalities involved. Liberals are often accused of being “soft,” but when they’re constantly put in the weak seat by conservatives who would rather be pushy jerks than considerate human beings, liberals can’t help but look like the victims. There’s a scene in which Franken tries to explain his position on an issue to Sean Hannity, and Hannity rudely starts talking to someone over Franken’s shoulder. I remember a jerk in high school who used to do that. What’s next? Hannity shoving Franken in a locker and high-fiving his letter-jacketed friends?

Less a window into Franken’s mind, “God Spoke” is more an observation of the current state of political commentary.

The TV and radio personalities on the front lines seem more interested in hurling playground insults and clever sound bites at each other than engaging in thoughtful, well-researched discourse. Although I think Franken plays fairer than others, his subversive, smart-aleck behavior doesn’t always add to the civility of the moment.

As the movie winds down and Franken winds up for his Senate campaign, we wish the filmmakers would have kept shooting for two more years so they could get a more complete story. As it is, we get to see Franken and some of his amusing media encounters, a few of his memorable “Saturday Night Live” skits and then the movie ends.

Liberals and conservatives might not be able to agree on most points, but I think they could both agree that this movie is unfocused, unfinished and unsatisfying.

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