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‘U.N. Me’ offers up red meat to United Nations bashers

By Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service –

The money shots in the documentary “U.N. Me” are of co-director/ interviewer Ami Horowitz wandering through the empty corridors and General Assembly hall at the United Nations in New York. Barely a soul in sight. He picks up a phone that nobody’s answering. It is, a graphic tells us, 5:16 p.m. on a workday.

The most stinging statement of the obvious in the film is how this body is run by people who bring “their cultures and customs” with them to it when they come to work there. Thus, lazy, corrupt elites from dictatorships and Third World countries where corruption is king and human rights a joke bring those values into a U.N. where the higher ideals of the West aren’t something they care to implement.

It’s certainly easy to believe that the United Nations, responsible for humanitarian, human rights and peace missions circling the globe, is a velvet coffin stuffed with inefficient bureaucrats who are more interested in maintaining their cushy jobs and collecting fat checks than with living up to the U.N.’s high ideals.

Particularly easy for conservatives, who have been bashing the U.N. since its founding. And they’re the audience for “U.N. Me,” a sometimes humorous, often damning but also disingenuous attempt to “Michael Moore” the United Nations.

Horowitz and co-director Matthew Groff play games with content, their choice of interview subjects and the facts as they try to hide their agenda in this film, which was shot in 2008, premiered in 2009 but is only now shoved into theaters in an election year. They hurl waves of randomly selected and undated TV news allegations (by the likes of Lou Dobbs) against the U.N. They’re slow to identify their many expert witnesses, some of whom are more credible than others. They bury their best, most credible experts into the final third — Jody Williams, who worked for the U.N., bore witness to the horrors of Darfur, and then was chastised and discredited by Syria, China, Algeria and other countries worried about the precedent that preventing a genocide there might mean to their own autocratic and anti-human rights policies.

Groff and Horowitz present the Western pop-culture view of the U.N., showing scenes from James Bond films and “North by Northwest.” They review, early on, the sort of U.N. success story this movie otherwise ignores — setting up and administrating the first-ever democratic elections in Cambodia.

But they had lots of damning stuff to choose from when it comes to pointing out the U.N.’s failings. Peacekeeping troops who fill their days on the beaches of Ivory Coast, allegations of influence peddling and bribery in Iraq’s 1990s “Oil for Food” program, obvious examples of a diplomatic organization unwilling to show some spine in the face of terrorism, outlaw states allowed to game the U.N.’s machinery to their own advantage.

The film repeats what others have accused the various U.N. missions of — that the peace keepers are often drawn from the unsavory units of undemocratic member nations’ militaries, troops who engage in criminal or partisan activities in the states they’re supposed to be policing.

“Avoiding the truth seems to be in the DNA” of this organization, Horowitz declares.

But time and again, Horowitz comes around to his real agenda here — Iran. This movie has a serious Jones for Iran, its Holocaust-denying president and its ongoing nuclear efforts. Perhaps that explains how this four-year-old “expose” is suddenly showing up in American theaters.

Horowitz and Groff are sloppy in the way they ID many of the overwhelmingly conservative U.N. bashers Horowitz interviews. It would have been more honest if expert witness Danielle Pletka were connected to the right-wing think tank American Enterprise Institute (conservative think tanks pepper the picture with their chatter), if we’d been told that Ken Cain has made a career out of attacking the U.N., or for that matter if Horowitz had identified himself as a regular contributor to the conservative Weekly Standard.

Whatever their own agendas and shortcomings, Michael Moore’s movies are invariably fact-checked and parsed, especially by the likes of Fox News. He takes hits with every film he releases, but his sins seem minor compared to the sleight of hand exercised here. And he gets away with some of his more slippery manipulations by being entertaining.

Horowitz and Groff, despite the occasional ambush interview and conference interruption, despite using mocking music and pulling off a nasty “Peace Keepers Gone Wild” hidden camera bit, are never that clever. It’s doubtful that Fox News will be tracking down and verifying where they got that footage, decrying the lack of “balance” among their “experts” — and if, indeed, the filmmakers were actually in the U.N. on a working weekday when no one seemed to be around.

Horowitz and Groff make a good case condemning the U.N., but are happy to finish their film with a pointless stunt rather than offer solutions — an international court charged with watch-dogging the place, for instance. The filmmakers are happy to point out the sins of the organization, but loath to suggest how the world might look if it never had existed. Perhaps that’s an inconvenient truth they’d rather not confront.



2 stars

Cast: Ami Horowitz, Ken Cain, Frank Gaffney, Danielle Pletka

Written and directed by Ami Horowitz, Matthew Groff. A Disruptive Pictures/ Moving Picture Institute release.

Running time: 1:30

MPAA rating: PG-13 for disturbing thematic material involving genocide and sexual abuses, and for violent images

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