If there's a lesson to be gleaned from a decade's worth of political documentaries - most of them left-wing in orientation - it is that they have virtually no impact whatsoever on the electoral process. That Michael Moore's scathing Fahrenheit 9/11 could soar to nearly $120 million on the very eve of George W. Bush's reelection effectively proves that such films do little but preach to the converted - far less effective at disseminating a message, it turns out, than the more traditional thirty-seconds of televised libel and slander with which the American electorate is traditionally more comfortable. But that hasn't dissuaded filmmaker Ray Griggs from throwing his hat into the ring, perhaps because Griggs believes that a right-wing message - especially one that aims to validate the concerns of the nascent Tea Party movement - has more persuasive power. Unfortunately, I Want Your Money amounts to little more than a Moore-style screed with a conservative bent and a less corpulent and sardonic host. Nonetheless, Freestyle Releasing should be able to squeeze solid numbers from limited screens at least through Election Day thanks to free publicity from conservative radio and television personalities.
For Griggs - an independent filmmaker best known for his universally derided 2009 narrative debut, Super Capers - the present political landscape basically boils down to a nagging left-wing contempt for the ideas of Ronald Reagan, a legacy which President Barack Obama is hell-bent on reversing. Amiable and well-spoken if not particularly charismatic, Griggs leads viewers through a methodical explication of this premise, all the while making the broader case that free market capitalism is morally right and economically vital as opposed to Obama's big government reliance on spending and social programs which, he counters, is fundamentally un-American and fiscally suicidal.
Keenly aware of the fact that the dusty details of supply-side economics are neither sexy nor particularly entertaining, Griggs relies heavily on both talking heads (conservative and libertarian standard-bearers like Mike Huckabee, Steve Forbes, economist Kate Obenshain, John Stossel and the Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore) and a handful of crudely animated CGI cartoon interludes in which Reagan endeavors to school Obama in the finer points of free market economics while a supporting cast of ex-presidents and noteworthy politicos (Nixon, Carter, Bill and Hillary Clinton, both Presidents Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nancy Pelosi and Sarah Palin) provide comic relief.
There is no doubt that Griggs has done his homework; unlike Michael Moore, whose rambling, disjointed Capitalism: A Love Story never quite seemed to grasp what capitalism actually is, Griggs goes to professorial lengths to define his terms and support his points, documenting the history of government interference in the economy from FDR to the present day with judiciously selected archival footage and statistics. The problem here - as with Moore's films - is that there are no opposing voices, no attempt to even feign the kind of objectivity that might have given the effort a semblance of real legitimacy. That's certainly not to take away from the interview subjects - Huckabee, Gingrich, Stossel, Forbes, conservative activist Andrew Breitbart and CURE President Star Parker are undeniably articulate spokespersons, but absent the kind of opposition with which gifted debaters score their most salient points, it's impossible to feel as though Griggs' film is anything but a giant Election Year puff piece. Not coincidentally, the film's most powerful and persuasive moment comes courtesy of archival footage of legendary economist Milton Friedman passionately rebutting Phil Donohue during a guest appearance on Donohue's television show in 1979 - precisely the kind of energy the rest of the film sorely lacks.
While his primary focus is Obama and his policies, it's fairly clear that Griggs is also taking aim at Moore and Capitalism: A Love Story. Several sections seem designed to specifically rebut portions of Moore's film, at one point attacking FDR's Second Bill of Rights address (which forms the climax to Capitalism) while later soliciting several interview subjects to make a religious case for free market capitalism (rebutting Moore's view that Capitalism is inherently un-Christian). Just as those sections were already tangential and ill conceived in Moore's film, so are they here.
It's the animated sequences, however, that most severely handicap the picture's ambitions - needlessly larded with unfunny jokes, forced parody and obscure references, they end up having precisely the opposite of their intended effect, distracting from the message at hand and reinforcing, rather than undermining, the stereotype of conservatives as stodgy, dusty and uncool.
Not that any of this will much matter to Griggs' target audience; like Moore, he means for his film to be polemical and one-sided. I Want Your Money is a call to arms for like-minded conservatives to take to the polls on November 2 in hopes of putting the nation back on the path of the ideals of Ronald Reagan. To this end, he has no trouble throwing the likes of George W. Bush and Richard Nixon under the bus - counterfeit conservatives need not apply. Neither, it seems, should anyone but the Fox News faithful; and that's a pity because it's a topic well worth debating.
Distributor: Freestyle Releasing
Director: Ray Griggs
Screenwriter: Randall Norman Desoto & Ray Griggs
Producers: Doug Stebleton
Rating: PG for thematic elements, brief language and smoking.
Running time: 92 min
Release date: October 15 ltd.