DVD Release Date:  October 21, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  April 18, 2008
Rating:  PG (thematic material, some disturbing images and brief smoking)
Genre:  Documentary
Run Time:  100 min.
Director:  Nathan Frankowski
Actors:  Ben Stein, Jason Collett, Richard Dawkins, David Berlinski, Alister McGrath, William A. Dembski, Stephen C. Meyers, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott

Although they probably are about as polar opposite as Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush are politically, Michael Moore and Ben Stein now share some common ground as documentarians who’ve faced their fair share of controversy for their provocative social commentary that’s tailor-made for the big screen.

But instead of tackling politically charged current events like the state of health care or whether it’s right (or not) for American soldiers to fight in Iraq, Stein opts for a somewhat old-school topic with a modern-day spin in Expelled:  No Intelligence Allowed.

If the age-old public relations maxim is true that “even negative publicity is good publicity,” than Expelled has that going for it in spades. Not only have well-known atheists allegedly “crashed” the press screenings, but early reviews have labeled it everything from “one of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a long time” by the New York Times to “a cynical attempt to sucker Christian conservatives into thinking they’re losing the intelligent design debate because of academic prejudice” by the Orlando Sentinel, not exactly a glowing endorsement.

Of course, the “intelligence” in question here refers to the issue of intelligent design (ID). For the uninitiated, the argument for I.D. is this:  The innate complexity of a single cell and the organisms that result inevitably points to some sort of designer, rather than the generally accepted scientific idea of evolution. For those who may automatically assume this means that Stein will be hammering home the idea of “biblical creationism,” however, think again. There’s little mention of the Genesis creation account in Expelled. Rather, there’s a variety of viewpoints presented that include everyone from a prominent atheist/biologist Richard Dawkins, a handful of creationists who also believe in parts of evolutionary theory, a few evolutionists who ultimately believe in a creator and everyone in between. And while it’s certainly admirable (and quasi-balanced) to allow freedom of speech for those on all sides of the issue, it’s still pretty clear from the get-go what viewpoint the filmmakers are lobbying for.

In fact, the core of the film focuses on a series of high-profile firings and refusal of tenure to those scientists and educators in the academic world who dared to consider the validity of I.D. And with the wry, comedic approach that Moore used in Sicko and Fahrenheit 911, Stein spans the globe and talks to scientists and philosophers on both sides of the heated debate, hoping to prove that many have been far too closed-minded in even presenting I.D. as a reputable option.

Initially, Stein seems to be rallying for open debate and discussion rather than bullying anyone who offers an alternate point of view, something that’s not always associated with those who embrace I.D. But a couple of times during the film, the method Stein uses to make his point doesn’t present him (or the argument) in the best light, especially when the film segues into an overly long section that shows Darwin's influence on the Nazi ideals, ultimately comparing Darwinists to communists.

Those missteps aside, Stein does a respectable job of offering plenty of food for thought for later discussion in a relatively entertaining manner. Technically speaking, the camera work leaves a little to be desired during the early interviews, but as the film progresses, those issues seem to have been corrected. Stylistically, the integration of whimsical film footage to further illustrate his points ups the entertainment value in what could’ve been a pretty dry subject for the average joe. And if those who would normally write off something of this ilk as nothing more than conservative, right-wing rhetoric would be willing to put aside their notions, they may even be surprised by the provocative dialogue that’s been initiated in Expelled:  No Intelligence Allowed.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  None, but some cigarette smoking shown.
  • Language/Profanity:  A couple of mild profanities.
  • Sex/Nudity:  None.
  • Violence:  There is some rather chilling Holocaust footage as piles of dead bodies are shown when Stein visits Nazi concentration camps.