Oliver Stone in a Che Guevara T-Shirt 

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South of the Border
Directed by Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone’s laughable, naïve documentary about the rise of democracy in Latin America plays like a student film made by an undergraduate recently inducted into the cult of Che Guevara. The revolutionary who launched a billion T-shirts gets namechecked over and over again in South of the Border, both by Stone, who narrates, and his subjects. But the more immediate object of the director’s affections is Hugo Chávez.

Stone spends the first half of the 78-minute runtime chumming it up on camera with the Venezuelan leader, and the second half hanging out with neighboring heads of state. These interviews—shot handheld by the great Albert Maysles—are uniformly embarrassing. When Stone talks with Bolivia’s Evo Morales, he says he knows the difference between processed cocaine and the raw coca leaf, before asking el presidente to show him the correct technique for ingesting the latter. (The ubiquity of narcotics in the Stone oeuvre, combined with the director’s own struggles with addiction, make for an unavoidable subtext.) Hopped up on coca, Stone insists on a quick game of soccer.

By portraying the U.S. government and media as ill-informed and duplicitous, and by offering a barrage of clips from CNN and Fox News as evidence, South of the Border is shooting fish in a barrel. Taking his cues from Michael Moore (who appears in one of those clips ripping Wolf Blitzer a new one), one of our most dynamic mainstream filmmakers has come up with a movie that’s disappointingly inert—successful neither as entertainment nor agitprop.

Opens June 25

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