A review requested by a compassionate fellow, brimming with love for his fellow man, with thanks for contributing to the Second Quinquennial Antagony & Ecstasy ACS Fundraiser.

Revisiting a political advocacy documentary whose stated intent was to influence a presidential election years after it failed to do so probably isn't sporting, regardless of one's opinion about the politics involved. On the other hand, the 2012 essay film 2016: Obama's America does have a still-contemporary hook: it offers specific predictions about what the United States of America will resemble by the end of President Barack Obama's second term, though for a movie with "2016" in the title, that's a shockingly small part of the overall running time. I write these words with just slightly more than a year and a half in that time period remaining, so strictly speaking, it's unfair to the film's mastermind Dinesh D'Souza to point out that none of the things he has predicted has come to pass, and the one that has come closest has been for totally different reasons. But any of them could happen, even though it seems like Obama is leaving himself with precious little time to scrap 97% of the nation's nuclear arsenal, if he's actually that interested in doing it.

For most of its running time, Obama's America is actually more of a biographical and psychological sketch than it is in any significant way about policy. This is both its weirdest characteristic and its greatest liability, as a movie and as propaganda. Instead of making bold factual claims, the film structures most of its argument along the skeleton of "this seems one way, but what if we assume it's this other way instead?", a series of queries that openly confess to being baldly speculative. Late in the film, D'Souza appears on one or another of the talking heads shows and all but openly admits that the idea of the book that primarily forms the film's basis - The Roots of Obama's Rage, from 2010 - exists primarily to fill a hole in the conservative ecosystem, providing a replacement for the "Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim" narrative to people who want all the fun of seeing the president as leader of a shadowy cabal without the embarrassment of having to believe demonstrable untruths. It's a moment that confirms that we've basically been watching a History Channel show about ancient aliens, ginning up nonsense based on evidence that, at best, doesn't not exist, all in the interest of throwing out a conspiracy theory just for the hell of it.

And so the film itself cleaves into three units: the first is D'Souza's own life story, which he sees as being enormously parallel to Obama's own (same birth year, same marriage year, both came from a multicultural international background), and which he offers for reasons that are honestly a bit obscure. At first I assumed it was a "see, if a brown-skinned immigrant like me can become a well-known political commentator and college president, America must be a great country!" riff, and the early going of D'Souza's rhetoric would appear to bear that out. But nothing in the remainder of the film follows through on that.

Meanwhile, D'Souza's way of telling his own life story is baffling in the extreme, relying on some of the hokiest re-enactments imaginable. At one point, our host recalls the time he got into an argument, as a student, with Jesse Jackson, insisting that there's no real evidence for such a thing as systemic racism (it's darkly hilarious, in 2015, to think that there was a time less than three years ago when anybody could think that they might get away with arguing for the non-existence of systemic racism), and the images drift into a peculiar fantasy sequence, in which a young black man sits down at a bar, only to have two young white men make a big show of looking disdainful and leaving. And then he looks sad, and biased-against. But look! It turns out they were just going to get his birthday cake, and they acted mean to make it a bigger surprise! Yay for post-racist America! I have no fucking clue what this is about, but it's deliriously campy.

Having thus established himself as a beneficiary of America's incontrovertible goodness, D'Souza launches into a fascinatingly off-base psychoanalysis of the president, minutely investigated his family history even when it makes no sense to do so (we're not just informed that his father had eight children by three women, we're presented the chronology of how that happened in lengthy detail), and building up the idea that Obama was so affected by the absence of his father for virtually his entire life, that he decided to take as his own worldview his father's Muslim radical anti-colonialism. Anti-colonialism! That's the sexy concept around which Obama's America relentlessly circles, with D'Souza deciding at the outset that the only possible way to interpret all the weird imbalances in Obama's behavior (which, for the most part, D'Souza does not specify) is to assume that he's a sleeper agent waiting for the perfect moment to gut the United States' standing in the world, economically and militarily. The idea that the apparent inconsistencies in the president's actions and rhetoric might be because he's a corporate centrist who says liberal-sounding lies to keep the Democratic base from acting up being much too simple and obvious, apparently; but one of the other fascinating things about Obama's America is that nearly every single specific mystery D'Souza tries to solve from the right is rather more directly solvable from the left.

The film's whole argument is unbelievably tormented, not representing the mainstream of conservative punditry at all (the best takedown of The Roots of Obama's Rage was, in fact, written by a conservative), and in the absence of facts, relying on innuendo, and in the absence of innuendo, relying on, "don't you see, the fact that no piece of evidence in existence confirms my theories about how anti-colonial Kenyan Muslim radicalism is the defining aspect of Obama's personality just shows how insidious he really is!" One badly wishes to compare D'Souza to the left's own movie essayist Michael Moore, who similarly allows implication to stand in for proof and isn't above misleading with editing when the facts aren't right where he wants them. But at least Moore makes testable claims. And more importantly, Moore is a bravura showman, plucking at our emotions, both to make us very sad and to make us very angry; and Moore is a broad entertainer, throwing comedy and music and a razzle-dazzle pacing to make his movies peppy. D'Souza has none of that - Obama's America is, in fact, deathly boring, as our host uses his warm, soft voice to run through ream after ream of dense narration, like a college professor who you find personally appealing, but completely incapable of making his lectures feel like anything but listening to an audiobook of an appliance manual.

Even setting aside its intellectual barrenness, Obama's America just isn't well-made, the chief difference between this and the equally polemical and rhetorically dubious but vastly more stylish Bowling for Columbine, for example. It's the difference between a filmmaker getting involved in politics, and a politico deciding to make a film, perhaps, and while presumably D'Souza's co-director, John Sullivan, was responsible for more of the actual nuts-and-bolts filmmaking, even he was a producer, not a director. And Obama's America is mostly a dumbshow: it's polished and sleek, and it looks more expensive than it is, but it also doesn't look like that money went to people who knew how to mix sound, for example. Or lock down a tripod. There are artistic choices that verge on incompetence, like the obviously-staged cell phone sequences in which D'Souza looks intense and troubled while his conversations are intercut with people on the other line rattling off their evidence for Obama's wickedness ("excitedly rattling off", I was going to say, but nobody in this movie is ever all that excited about anything). One of them is clearly holding his phone the wrong way.

At one point, the filmmakers commit one of the worst unforced errors I've ever seen in a political documentary: D'Souza takes the time to fly to Africa to talk to Obama's half-brother George, and attempts to goad him into admitting how furious he is at having been abandoned by his wicked anti-colonial monster of a relative. And George just won't do it; he doesn't appear to care in the slightest about American politics, or find the interview interesting at all. It undoubtedly sucked for the filmmakers to spend the resources on getting an unusable interview like that, but it was exactly that: unusable. And yet D'Souza soldiers on and sticks it in the movie anyway, like it somehow proves his point, rather than making him look like a boob. That's Obama's America in a nutshell: when the facts go square against your argument, simply point and them and declare "look, do you see how that proves me right? Yes it certainly does, and if you disagree, you just need to listen to my quiet, sleepy voice some more". This is neither printing the facts nor printing the legend: it's printing the flop sweat.