Movie review: "The Cartel"

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

It's all Michael Moore's fault, really. He's to blame for the rise of advocacy documentaries, those often one-sided looks at complex issues that give weight to their arguments under the guise of some actual journalism.

"The Cartel" is an egregious offender on this front. Director and New Jersey TV reporter Bob Bowdon paints with a broad brush in his look at a failing U.S. education system, and his position involves some blind leaps of logic that he never quite patches in.

Bowdon's foundation is familiar. Using his home state as the key (and only) example, he runs through a litany of mind-numbing stats of wasteful spending and atrocious results. He makes a simple point - more money doesn't guarantee better results when it comes to schools.

The culprits, he says, are a corrupt and bloated school administration system, evidenced by an absurdly knee-jerk graphic tallying the number of luxury cars in the parking lot of the state school administration. Teachers unions are also broadly targeted, with an underlying message that the free market will solve all of these complex problems.

His narration and onscreen graphics - complete with smiley and frowny stick children illustrating the joy school vouchers would bring - are pretty low-grade. And interviews are overwhelmingly with talking heads.

"Cartel" does raise an interesting and worthwhile discussion, but its argument never rises above preaching to the privatizing choir.

Opens Friday at the Gateway Film Center

Q&A with director to follow the 7 p.m. Friday showing

Grade: C-