One day, Tom Shadyac—purveyor of such atrocious blockbuster comedies as Ace Ventura, Bruce Almighty and Patch Adams—fell off his bicycle and decided to change the world.
Afflicted with post-concussion syndrome, the filmmaker claims to have contemplated suicide before the symptoms eventually abated. Now healed and suffused with a goofy, messianic zeal, the multi-millionaire renounced his garish Pasedena mansion, private jets and horrible sequels, moved into a mobile home community and set out with a camera crew to ask: “What is wrong with the world and how can we fix it?”
Apparently, good vibes are the solution. Good vibes, and a lot of random stock footage.
Trolling over a massive canvas with a multitude of talking heads, Shadyac sits down with everybody from Noam Chomsky to crackpot New Age quantum physicists, attempting to solve the entirety of our civilization’s problems—using only sound-bytes, exploitative disaster clips and slow-motion nature photography.
Shadyac has a hippy-dippy sincerity that’s almost (but not quite) endearing. He seems blissfully unaware that his exact spiritual quest was already satirized by Preston Sturges in Sullivan’s Travels. He also can’t seem to stay focused on a single topic for more than two or three minutes at a time. Potentially intriguing subjects such as empathy being a Darwinian survival instinct are given short shrift, before leapfrogging into some spectacularly silly pseudo-science.
My favorite is a demonstration of electro-magnetic fields, in which a petri dish full of yogurt is purportedly able to read the director’s mind, growing alarmed by the mere thought of his attorney. (Or at least as alarmed as yogurt can get. If this were one of Shadyac’s hacky comedies, I bet Jim Carrey would make a crack about his lunch not agreeing with him.)
I suppose the sheer, weird earnestness of the project is begrudgingly admirable, but I Am’s only real revelation is that a terrible filmmaker is a terrible filmmaker, regardless of ambition or subject matter. Personally, I was hoping for a twist ending—in which Shadyac bumps his head again, goes back to normal and makes Ace Ventura 3.