“America: Imagine The World Without Her” is book-ended by scenes of co-director (and credited “creator”) Dinesh D'Souza. At the start, he is a triumphant filmmaker who made “2016: Obama's America," which he accurately credits as “the second highest grossing political documentary of all-time.” By the end, he's referring to the charges against him of completely transparent campaign finance law violation as a “mistake” on his part, but also calling himself a victim of Obama's America, a martyr for loving his country too much (and also breaking the law and being caught). In between is the weakest and most pathetic straw man argument ever put to film, set to be released on the Fourth of July for audiences who are sick of answering political arguments with, “Because!”
“Incredible as it may seem, there are people within America who want a world without America,” D'Souza narrates, creating one of many false binaries the film attempts to dissect. The thesis of the film is all over the place, as if D'Souza knew full well he had a shoddy case study on his hands, instead jumping around to observe America of the past, present and future. The Civil War re-enactments (which feature a war re-envisioned by D'Souza as “a war to end slavery”) stand alongside the notion of an alternate reality death of George Washington. Were the movie to follow that new history and all its intellectual implications, it could have been intriguing and even a bit daring: recall the mock-doc “CSA: Confederate States Of America," which humorously depicts a country that lost that war.
Instead, we have D'Souza seated in front of liberal firebrands, interviewing them and asking embarrassing questions like why President Obama's election didn't “end racism.” He gets to sit down with the likes of Noam Chomsky to create the illusion that he won't have the final, decisive word off screen, usually in a show of foundation-less braggadocio. D'Souza is an obnoxious personality on film: often wearing bleached mom jeans and multi-colored thrift shop polo shirts, he speaks condescendingly slow so that the cheap seats can hear him nice and clearly. His speech has the sort of halting, faux-intellectual cadence that makes you wish you were more of a bully in high school.
The film plays out like more of a bullet-point presentation than an actual film, taking each argument he thinks liberal minds are having and dissecting each, cherry-picking anomalies in order to confront some sort of liberal “truth” that doesn't exist. He argues that discussions of the history of slavery weaken our country and our resolve, and that the true story of slavery is omitted from the collective narrative. That “true history” involves the accusations that slavery had been a part of several other countries' evolutions (...yay?), that ONE major slave owner (William Ellison) was black, and that the first female millionaire in American history (Madam C.J. Walker) was in fact a former slave. So, we can't really talk about slavery's negative affects without discussing the potential character-building that was going on. D'Souza's flattery of the core audience is clearly more important than the fact he might be fueling some very dangerous fires.
He also addresses the issue of Mexican-American immigration by being coy. Perhaps there is a real lack of conviction in the way some of his interview subjects speak. Or maybe the young man who claims the Mexican cartels would crush his dreams back home is being fed lines from off-camera. There's considerable theatricality to D'Souza's stunts that recalls the director of the number one political documentary of all time. When D'Souza dials up the smarm to pointlessly ask a border patrol cop how many Mexican Americans critical of the American government cross back over to Mexico, it's straight out of the now-exhausted play-dumb Michael Moore playbook.
And then there's that doozy of an ending. D'Souza plants the seeds of his anti-education jeremiad early on by attempting to poke holes in Howard Zinn's “A People's History Of The United States.” But that's just a wind-up for an utterly baffling segment where the book's teachings are connected with community organizer and liberal educator Saul Alinsky. The metaphors and doubletalk end just about when D'Souza flat-out compares Alinsky to Lucifer, before bemoaning his influence first on Hillary Clinton and then on President Obama. For those of you keeping score at home, the White House is under the control of the DEVIL. Of course, D'Souza keeps refusing to probe deeper because he gets off on this sort of name-dropping and hyperbole. When he devotes an extended riff to Matt Damon simply for mentioning “A People's History Of The United States” in “Good Will Hunting” (a seventeen-year-old movie, by the way), his pitch lifts high enough almost into a voice-cracking squeal. That semi-provocative opening involving an America without George Washington suddenly feels miles away.
Of course, those aforementioned bullet points merely hammer home that this is artless propaganda, uninformed, sensationalistic and devoted to buzzphrases (“the shaming of America”), simplicity (“have the United States been a force for good or ill in the world?”) and grandstanding (“We won't let them shame us, we won't let them intimidate us”—who is them and who is us?). Insidiously, these are some of the ways D'Souza and co-director John Sullivan keep the film brisk and conventionally entertaining, not unlike a “Sharknado” sequel or a particularly embarrassing YouTube video. Filled with soaring guitars, pointless blacksmith montages and recreations with porn-level production values (check out the sponge-wig on Frederick Douglass), it's all fist-pumping anti-thought, consisting of baseless revisionist history and idle contrarianism. And maybe, deep down, D'Souza knows it: one of the lasting images of the film is his voiceover threatening, “Capitalists are under fire,” while he watches Michael Moore give a speech on the Jumbotron, eating a Times Square hot dog and standing in front of an Olive Garden. It would all be so funny if it weren't a total joke. [F]