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Go Further

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 05/04/05 15:44:33

"Like, um, save the planet, and, wow, man, like, um... are those cookies?"
1 stars (Sucks)

“Go Further” is a documentary that’s swimming in good intentions and drowning in lousy execution. It means well, it really, really does - but it’s so ineptly presented that it places the viewer on the edge between unintentionally amused and highly irritated. It’s everything Eric Cartman has come to hate about dirty stinking hippies.

Allow me to give an example of its incompetence. The film follows Woody Harrelson and Pals on their S.O.L. Tour (“Simple Organic Living”), during which they bicycled from Seattle to Los Angeles to raise awareness for a wide (read: slipshod) variety of environmental issues. The movie becomes 80 minutes of Harrelson bitching about the State of Things, but there’s never a solid argument - or even any presentation of facts and evidence - to back up their claims. This is never more clear than when Harrelson, in narration, explains while we see a cropduster dump its load on an unsuspecting field: “Between 1991 and 1998, the amount of pesticides sprayed on our food escalated.” End of argument.

Um, escalated how? By how much? Why start at 1991? Why stop at 1998? Can you bother to provide any more information? No? OK, then.

Perhaps Harrelson felt that his points were so far in the realm of common sense - it’s better to not destroy the forests, it’s better to not kill your food with chemicals, it’s better to not use up fossil fuels, it’s better to not pollute - that he didn’t need to back his statements up. This reveals the gleeful optimism and depressing idiocy behind such movements: in every field, you’re going to find a handful of activists who seem to be for the cause without bothering to figure out why. Being for a cause, being tag-alongs, must be enough.

Harrelson doesn’t limit these fact-free statements to the narration. We see clips of his speeches (almost always made on college campuses), and they all contain this sort of vague emptiness. “Be good to Planet Earth” is Harrelson’s sole message, and the hackeysackers in the crowd nod blankly, like they’ve just heard the deepest deep thought they ever will hear. Sure, Harrelson is preaching to the choir, and therefore doesn’t need to actually convince anybody. But come on. Any activist serious enough to embark on a major speaking tour should be able to come up with more than hokey catchphrases. (“Living with a light footprint” gets used, and Harrelson’s tone implies how happy he is to use such a line... and how uninterested he is in saying anything else. And yeah, it’d be great to “remove the demand” for lumber, thus saving the forests, but do you care to expand on this issue? Hello? Woody? Helloooo?)

It goes without saying that a good deal of the film is spent praising the miracle of hemp. The tour bus runs not on diesel but on some sort of hemp oil (again, facts here would help us understand why such a fuel is better than gasoline, or at least to learn how hemp oil can possibly run an engine of this size efficiently, but no, there are no facts, no concern for showing us how stuff works - it’s the “shut up and agree” method), we’re shown fabrics and rugs made from hemp, and, yes, we even catch a glimpse of one tour member buying the latest issue of “High Times.”

Ah, yes. The pot issue. While Harrelson makes a claim that he no longer smokes the weed, it’s undercut by a scene of a few of his assistants toking. And such scenes give the movie its unintended point: we’re too buzzed to care about details, man. The tour wanders about, rambling from issue to issue like a stoner easily distracted by a bag of cookies. Which then leads things to be obnoxiously simplified. Consider the one biker who displays an upside-down American flag, merely for cheap shock value; he claims it’s because our nation “is in disarray,” which it may be, but to offer nothing in addition to this comment and this flag statement - no extra ideas, no further commentary, no sign of any brain activity spent on developing this opinion any further than its basic surface notions - turns the flag from being a symbol for this guy’s frustration with the Way Things Are to being a symbol of this tour’s and this movie’s shallowness.

But that’s not enough, folks. We also get, as the other star of the film, Steve Clark, a former production assistant on “Will & Grace” who now works as a Harrelson toady. Clark is one of the most irritating people you will ever have the misfortune of meeting. He’s loud, he’s grating, he’s a jerk. He thinks it’s funny to call Harrelson “Woody Allen,” to the point that when hyping the tour and Harrelson’s speeches, he actually shouts into the megaphone, “Come hear Woody Allen in person,” not bothering to realize that some folks might actually show up expecting to see the guy who made “Annie Hall,” not the guy from “Cheers.”

Clark’s insufferable behavior begins to overwhelm the documentary, to the point where by the end, the film has become a study in how big an idiot this guy is. Filmmaker Ron Mann (“Grass”) must have noticed that Clark’s jackass antics made for better storytelling than Harrelson’s bland motto-repeating. What he fails to see is how giving Clark so much camera time makes the film even more intolerable than it already was.

You’d think Mann would take the time to fill in the gaps of Harrelson’s poorly formed arguments and flesh them out with facts and figures, ideas and examples. But no. Instead, he pummels us with cameos from musicians (Anthony Kiedis, Natalie Merchant, and Dave Matthews all appear for no understandable reason, other than to perform their latest singles) and - the sign of a truly desperate documentarian - fake news reports. For narration, every now and then we’ll get made-up weather reports and radio announcements. Which is a cheap, spineless ploy.

Add all of this together and “Go Further” becomes a film that actually works against the very cause it wants to help. There’s no effort to stand by a single one of its claims, no effort to keep those making the claims from becoming aggravating to the viewer, no effort to be anything but smug and self-serving. Mann’s film is a pointless, rambling mess from start to finish. Avoid it like a rabid vegan would avoid an Arby’s.

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