Monday, February 20, 2006

UNITED (2006)

This is a recent aquisition that I received from one of my fiancee's cousins out in California. It came with a hand-written letter describing her work for the Youth for Human Rights International, which said that the DVD enclosed would explain a lot about what she was doing. It all sounds high and noble until you notice the return address was marked L. Ron Hubbard Drive.

As our wedding date creeps ever closer, I am coming to terms with the fact that some of my future in-laws are Scientologists...

I expect we will probably receive a copy of Battlefield Earth for the wedding (hopefully the book and not the movie) and maybe Dianetics around the holidays, followed by a coupon for a free "personality audit" come our anniversary. Having never been raised around Scientologists, I don't know if they just gently push their cult on you like Christians or if they ram it in your face like Quixtar "owners"; only time will tell.

Still, the DVD was a gift given in earnest, so I figured I ought to at least check it out before I try to sell it at Gamestop. I wasn't expecting much from UNITED. Unfortunately, it gave me even less.

So what was I expecting? Well, I figured that it would give me at least an hour's worth of indoctrination by the Scientology cult. The box had all these glowing quotes from non-Scientologists like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Kofi Annan about how the movie would bring about world peace and such.

Alas, UNITED is not a documentary but a six-minute long rap video.

The idea of Scientologist rap sounds much funnier on paper than it does it execution. If just once Xenu himself made a cameo all thugged out, UNITED would have a permenant spot on my DVD shelf. UNITED, however, is entry-level Scientology, spouting feelgood platitudes about how mankind should come together and love each other, blah-blah. If you missed that the lyrics have depth, don't worry, they are subtitled on the screen for you to sing-a-long with.

UNITED attempts for a sort of inner city "Increase the Peace" atmosphere. It starts with some little kids shooting hoops on a basketball court with cute little girls looking on through the chainlink fence. Some "gangstas" come along and steal their basketball, in what has got to be the pussiest piece of thuggery to ever be committed on film. Another segment in a high school has a kid giving a bloodless beatdown to another kid before pushing a girl down to the floor. While in the ivory towers of Scientology-land this may pass for grittiness, ultimately it makes an episode of Degrassi Junior High look like Kids.

Soon, the basketball-less children start folding paper airplanes, which sail inexplicably to India and China and Thailand and South America. All around the world, television sets begin to replace their usual onslaught of "negativity" with the word U-N-I-T-E-D, and everybody sings along. Newscasters start to dance like Tom Cruise on Oprah's couch. In a gut busting montage, a businessman starts to "raise the roof" while his collegues try and read their Wall Street Journals. John Travolta doesn't show up, but we do get to see lower Church members Julia Stiles and Isaac Hayes lipsync to the annoyingly banal rhymes (if you didn't know that U-N-I spell "you and I", you will by the time it's over and will want to gouge your eardrums out with chopsticks in the process.)

In the end, the kids rally all their friends from the neighborhood and march up to hoods who took their ball. The sight of twenty ten-year olds is enough to make the majority of the homeboys cut and run (one wonders how they would hold up during a drive by shooting...) The remaining one, terrified that he's outnumbered by...let me repeat...ten-year olds, gives the basketball back. Instead of giving this wimp the beatdown he so richly deserves (again, by ten-year olds), they give the ball back and shake hands and become friends and once again, all is good in Thetan-land.

Of course, this is a "Special Edition" which succumbs to the egotism of the DVD age and unnecessarily contains deleted scenes (basically two even more interminable shots of the funky newscaster and businessman) and a "making of" segment which runs longer than the video. In case you were wondering about the deep meanings behind the video, director Taron Lexton tells you about the deep care that went into selecting shots that would instantly be representative of locales such as India. How much thought that would require seems negligible since he goes for the easy and obvious choice of the Taj Mahal. With his filmmaking prowess (and new connections in Hollywood) expect Mr. Lexton to be helming Mission: Impossible IV, in summer 2008.

Don't be suckered by the box art, which has UNITED as an "official contender" for everything from Cannes to The Academy Awards. That's basically the same as saying this review is an "official contender" for the Pulitzer, which I have no chance of winning. As propaganda, I've seen herbal penis enhancement infomercials that are more skillful pieces of manipulation. Besides a few pieces here and there about the "negativity" of TV, I wouldn't even have known this was an ad for Scientology without the L. Ron Hubbard Drive return address on the envelope.

Anyway, here's the site for the video. Be sure to watch the public service announcement, it is hilarious.


Anonymous Mike said...

Are you sure it wasn't Erika Christensen?

10:22 AM  

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