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'2016: Obama's America' review: diatribe

"You don't know him," warns the poster for "2016: Obama's America," a docu-diatribe from the conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza that attempts to put Barack Obama on the couch and probe his brain. The movie does a lousy job of that, but it reveals quite a bit about D'Souza.

"2016" is based on D'Souza's new book, "Obama's America: Unmaking the American Dream" and on his controversial 2010 polemic "The Roots of Obama's Rage," which portrayed the president as essentially a fifth-columnist working to destroy America. D'Souza, who wrote and directed with John Sullivan (of Ben Stein's anti-evolution diatribe "Expelled") offers little proof of this, other than the assumption that Obama's apple fell near his leftist Kenyan father's tree. This notion -- not serious issues like Obama's Middle East policies or job-creation record -- is what obsesses D'Souza.

As a result, "2016" is an attempt at character-assassination, though D'Souza's aim is beyond poor; he seems to be holding his rifle the wrong way around. He's an Indian immigrant fingering Obama as a suspicious foreigner, a Dartmouth graduate (he repeatedly tells us) disgusted by Obama's Harvard connections, a man who shrugs off America's racial discord unless it serves his argument, as when Shelby Steele delegitimizes Obama's election as "racially motivated" by white guilt. As an interviewer, D'Souza stands tall among fellow ranters but shrinks before non-sympathizers. Obama's half-brother, George (in his first big-screen appearance), looks mildly amused as D'Souza sniffs around him for morsels of resentment.

Presented as a conspiracy-thriller with ominous music and zig-zaggy camerawork, "2016" hammers at suspicions, not issues -- a dishonorable tactic whether from the right or the left. D'Souza's movie may further raise the blood pressure of Obama's most ardent detractors (it certainly isn't trying to reason with swing voters). But as an example of our national discourse, it's mostly just depressing.


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