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Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?

The Search for a Killer in the Muslim World

Where in the World is Osama bin Laden? finds documentarian Morgan Spurlock training his cameras not on the artery-clogging cuisine served at McDonald’s, as he did somewhat memorably in 2004’s Super-Size Me, but on the Middle Easterners he encountered during a seven-month quest to find the world’s most elusive terrorist.

The hunt proves fruitless, as Spurlock must have known it would, and his habit of injecting himself into the action is increasingly grating, no more so than when he justifies the journey by alleging a desire to make the world a safer place for his soon-to-be-born son. But as an interviewer, he is gently charming, able to coax thoughtful answers from his subjects even when the questions themselves -- “Do you know where Osama bin Laden is?” -- seem vaguely pointless.

Those expecting a serious-minded exploration of places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel are likely to be disappointed by Spurlock’s entertaining but unenlightening tours of those regions, which produce several harshly worded denunciations of the Bush administration but little more. Some people hate America. Some people hate bin Laden. And some regard both with equally unmitigated disdain, which they are more than happy to share with Spurlock and his camera crew. Interesting? Sometimes. Newsworthy? Not remotely.

Then again, we’re talking about a filmmaker whose rise to fame was spurred by the revolutionary notion that a steady diet of bacon cheeseburgers and an outright rejection of exercise might result in weight gain. Spurlock has rarely distinguished himself as an investigative journalist on the level of Michael Moore, whose style he apes deftly, and as a populist rabble-rouser, his targets often seem obvious.

But as a casual observer’s fact-finding mission into a land too readily and unfairly stigmatized by the Western world, his latest documentary makes for an engaging, capably produced travelogue. That it masquerades as anything more is intellectually dishonest, but those generous enough to look past the underlying absurdity of the film’s premise should find moments to savor.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars