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Friday, April 18, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 44.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Famous interviewees can't save self-absorbed I Am
Vanity documentary

Short-attention-span theater.
Short-attention-span theater.
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Don't know who Tom Shadyac is? Let's allow the man to introduce himself - believe me, he isn't shy: "I made Jim Carrey talk out of his ass." As a writer and a director, Shadyac first unleashed Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Nutty Professor remake on the world; later he directed what could charitably be called a string of film fiascoes (Patch Adams, anyone?).

But that's all behind him now, as Shadyac lays out in the opening minutes of this personal documentary, which might as well be subtitled The World According to Tom Shadyac After His Life-Changing Head Trauma, or maybe How Tom Shadyac Found Spirituality and Decided to Atone for His Sins.

Tired of hearing the name Tom Shadyac? Try spending 76 minutes with him; you'll hear little else. Okay, that wasn't charitable. In fact, this talking-head-heavy film, which explores what's broken with our world (and, well, how Tom Shadyac thinks we should fix it), raises some interesting ideas along the way, like quantum entanglement, cooperation in animal behavior and the intersection of science and spirituality.

But Shadyac isn't content to simply let his interview subjects - including Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky and Desmond Tutu - speak for themselves. (On a side note: Tutu tells the same story that inspired the title of Turk Pipkin's One Peace at a Time, a similarly themed and far superior attempt at a consciousness-raising documentary.) Instead, Shadyac has to literalize every concept in a kind of short-attention-span theater.

The M.O.: Pluck a context-less quote about, say, materialism, cue an on-the-nose song, and smoosh together a word-association montage (hey, it's a shopping mall! A sweatshop! A private jet! A palace! The cover of Stuff magazine!).

It's hard to decide what rankles most: what an astonishing monument to Shadyac's self-absorption I Am is, or how flat-out bad - incompetent, even - the filmmaking is. Such clumsy manufacturing gets in the way of whatever good comes out of the mouths of the not-uninspiring do-gooders polled here.

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