FILM Always be suspicious of any documentary that starts off with this snippet of dialogue: "Is it real, is it not real?" In fact, for the first 10 minutes of American Cannibal, directed by Perry Grebin and Michael Nigro, I suspected I might be watching a mock doc. But nope, it's real more authentic than reality TV, anyway, which is the subject it chronicles via both insider insights (from showbiz types like Fox Reality Channel honcho David Lyle) and the tension-fraught journey of Gil S. Ripley and Dave Roberts, writing partners who turn to reality TV as their last make-a-buck resort. That chance comes in the form of skeezy Kevin Blatt, proud promoter of jailbird Paris Hilton's sex tape, who bypasses their pitch Virgin Territory ("When you win it, you lose it!") in favor of American Cannibal, an extreme twist on Survivor that Ripley tosses out as more of a joke than anything else. Before he and Roberts can believe what's happening, an American Cannibal pilot presented to potential cast members as Ultimate, Ultimate Challenge, part of the show's bait-and-switch tack is in motion. Morals and friendships are soon tested, as is the idea that reality TV spells instant money and success for whoever can bring the last great idea to some new, more sensational level.
Seriously, though, would you actually eat someone's finger for prize money, even if you were really, really hungry? Would anyone? American Cannibal the documentary proves far more fascinating than American Cannibal the failed reality show ever could have been. It does feel like America's rabid urge to devour prepackaged reality has settled down a bit, but you and I both know it's never going away. Representing the craze's high end, American Idol vet Jennifer Hudson has an Oscar. At the low end, take your pick (wherefore art thou, The Littlest Groom?). But if Ripley and Robert's American Cannibal a show that was to strand constants on a desert island and starve them, then tell them they had to eat human flesh to survive sounds so ridiculous that you feel kind of sorry it never made it to the airwaves so you could watch, you're not alone. As doc interviewee and The Daily Show cocreator Lizz Winstead points out, "If the lowest common denominator was a muscle, it could kick the shit out of anything else."
June 2228, $4-8
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