a global warming comedy
a kate west review
directed by Randy Olson
written by Randy Olson & Ifeanyi Njoku
World Premiere - Los Angeles Outfest
at Fairfax Theater
7907 Beverly Blvd. L.A.
The movie "Sizzle" is a cinematic hodgepodge of styles: comedy, documentary and science, all in an attempt to illuminate global warming. Director/writer Randy Olson is a bonafide scientist (Marine Biologist) who chose to leave science for film school at USC. His previous films include "Rediagnosing the Oceans" and "Flock of Dodos" (about evolution). In "Sizzle" he counters Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" with a mix of fantasy and a dose of skepticism.
The premise is that he, Olson as a scientist, wants to make a different type of movie about global warming and recruits (pretend) producers Mitch Silpa and Brian Clark who bring him argumentative crew members (Alex Thomas and Ifeanyi Njoku). Using real scientists and fake actors, his mix of fantasy and fact-driven reality can be confusing. For instance, Clark, Silpa and Thomas are the actors playing actors and film crew. Some of them use their real names and some do not. Real creators Olson and Njoku play themselves (Olson) and fake crew members (Njoku). He even enlists his own mother, Muffy Moose, to play his mother. Make sense yet?
The scientists are real, covering the spectrum of both the pro and the con regarding the severity of environmental impact. The alarmists include Dr. Jerry Meehl, Dr. Richard Somerville, Dr. Megan Owen, Julia Bovey and Dr. Naomi Oreskes (who was featured in Al Gore's documentary) and the skeptics include Dr. Pat Michaels, Dr. Steve Hayward, Dr. Fred Singer, Dr. Bill Gray, Dr. Marc Morano and Dr. George Chillingarian. The latter skeptic, Dr. Chilli let's call him, is such a character himself that it further blurs the fantasy/reality line. With a flamboyant mustache and attitude, his outrageousness rivals that of the fake producers.
In addition, Olson has an editing problem. So many scenes are needlessly repetitive. For instance, he interviews a scientist and his pretend cameraman (Thomas) disputes the facts; Olson shows frustration and follows up with several interviews in the exact same manner. Then about two-thirds into the film, Olson presumably finally listens to his sound man (Njoku) who tells him to put a human face on global warming, inspiring them to visit New Orleans and show the still-visible carnage of Hurricane Katrina. While obviously moving, this happens a little too far into the movie and again, goes on a little too long.
The scenes with Brian Clark and Mitch Silpa as flaky novice Hollywood producers are hilarious as the real Silpa and Clark are professional improvisers (www.groundlings.com) and darn good at it too. However, Olson is unfortunately not as talented, and thus is not a strong enough presence to keep viewer interest for an entire feature. His science is interesting, but even after a stint at USC, he is not the consummate filmmaker, having produced a film riddled with editing and believability problems. As a general audience, we appreciate the attempt at fun, but Olson does not quite understand how to maintain a coherent story line, choosing instead to throw everything in but the kitchen sink.
The overall impression is one of chaos, with Olson constantly seeming to wrestle with how to convey his confusion (he does present both pro and con, after all). One ill-directed dream sequence of a literal wrestle (with a polar bear) adds little to the film. His dramatic arguments are written to be funny and are amusing, but the reality/fantasy transitions are just not sharp enough to make a well polished film. In the editing room scene, where Olson is getting advice on focus, one wishes this had really happened behind the scenes in order to be translated into a gratifying whole.
In spite of some spots of entertainment and thought-provoking facts, the film plays as a work-in-progress. It just isn't there. Kudos for the attempt at enlightenment, and if it shifts someones global perspective, that would be great. But sadly, it is just not cinematically logical. And why it premiered at theme-structured Los Angeles Outfest is yet another mysterious facet of the experience.