American Cannibal

"Excellent"

American Cannibal Review


I've watch my share of Survivor, Big Brother, and The Apprentice. I've even seen Fear Factor a few times. Reality TV is unavoidable, a harmless pleasure that lets you enjoy seeing the abject misery of others along with the minute joy of seeing someone win a lot of money once in a while.

Of course, we all know that reality and reality TV are hardly the same thing, and you have to know that the "behind the scenes" of these shows are a bit like seeing sausage being made. It can't be pretty, right?

That brings us to American Cannibal, which is either a searing documentary about how awful reality TV comes about or a brilliant, seamless mockumentary on the topic. If it's the former, it's a masterpiece. If it's the latter, it's a little less fun, because the story is that much more compelling if it's true. But either way, American Cannibal is essential viewing for any latter-day TV watcher.

The story (real or false) follows two out-of-work TV writers who wend their way through TV networks and production companis as they try to break into reality TV. Their idea (among many) involves a house full of virgins, one of whom gets to have sex at the end of the show. No one bites until they encounter the producer of the Paris Hilton sex tape, who instantly agrees to fund the project. But, as is the case in Hollywood, he comes up with an even better idea: Putting a bunch of "sick bastards" on an island and starving them until someone gets eaten.

Well, not really. He says they'll stop before someone goes cannibal, but it'll look like they ate someone. Maybe. Something like that. Exactly how this will work is never really clear, but they need to shoot a pilot, they need cash, and they figure it can't hurt, so it's off to Puerto Rico to shoot a 30-minute pilot for Starvation Island, aka The Ultimate Ultimate Challenge.

As expected, the production is an outright disaster from the start, but it isn't until one of the contestants is mysteriously injured off-camera and has to be airlifted away that the production shuts down. Without enough footage to even create a pilot, the project falls apart completely.

You want to root for Gil Ripley and Dave Roberts, the ostensible writers in question, but as they delve through the SoCal porn industry en route to their financier, you also feel sorry for them. As the cannibal angle of this show becomes more and more prominent, it's cringe-inducing to see them get co-opted, however slightly, in their hunt for their piece of the pie.

So... is it real? I doubt it. Things are just too pat: The convenient off-camera injury is when things finally become a little too overt for this to be a documentary. The dialogue between many of the characters feels unnatural much of the time, and too many witticisms are at the ready. That said, there are obviously many aspects of a real documentary here (The Ultimate Ultimate Challenge even has an IMDB entry, a nice touch), including copious talking heads pontificating about the genre. Ultimately, whether it's real or not, it's still a compelling story. The point, I guess, is that it could be true. After all, "reality TV" isn't "real," so why should a documentary about reality TV be any realer?

Additional interviews are available on the DVD, along with two commentary tracks.

Aka American Cannibal: The Road to Reality.



American Cannibal

Facts and Figures

Run time: 87 mins

In Theaters: Tuesday 2nd May 2006

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 64%
Fresh: 16 Rotten: 9

IMDB: 4.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Perry Grebin, Michael Nigro

Producer: Perry Grebin, Denis Jensen, Michael Nigro

Starring: Sturgis Adams as Himself

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