Someday, perhaps, it will be possible to look back on "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" as a relic and reminder of the rhetorical logic employed during the era of George W. Bush. Until then, it should be seen simply as a tiresome ideological bludgeon, an attempt to deceive audiences into believing it is one thing when it is, in fact, quite another.
Entertainer, pitchman and political commentator Ben Stein begins the film by intoning that there is a growing conspiracy within the academic and scientific communities blocking out proponents of "intelligent design" as a means to explain the origins of life and human development in favor of lock step enforcement of Darwinist theories of evolution.
By setting the argument up in this way, one which is never fully pursued or proven, Stein has, of course, attempted to utilize a textbook Karl Rove-ian tactic to "reframe" the discussion, putting it in terms by which his side seems the valiant underdog, suppressed and belittled by its opponent, while turning notions of right and wrong, freedom of speech and even the meaning of science upside down.
A movie review is, of course, not really the forum for debating the ins, outs and what-have-yous of intelligent design, but it certainly can be said here that if a film like "Expelled" is meant to be the vanguard action for turning public opinion, the movement has a long, long road ahead.
Directed by Nathan Frankowski and co-written by Stein and Kevin Miller, the film follows -- gamely but charmlessly -- the Michael Moore playbook, with its hapless everyman guide, ironic use of antiquated educational films and even showing host and crew half-heartedly kicked out of the Smithsonian.
The film quite pointedly never particularly makes the case for intelligent design, also never fully explaining how the concept is not, as its detractors would have it, simply shoehorning a space for faith-based creationism within the boundaries of science.
All this is without even touching on the most risible sections of the film, in which Stein visits a Nazi sanitarium and concentration camp, attempting to draw a line from Darwin to Hitler to Stalin to (really) John Lennon.
In some ways, "Expelled" is itself an afterthought, a formal necessity toward the ultimate aim of mobilizing and propagating a specific agenda.
As a work of nonfiction filmmaking it is a sham and as agitprop it is too flimsy to strike any serious blows.
"Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." MPAA rating: PG for thematic material, some disturbing images, brief smoking. In general release.