Monday, September 17, 2012

Round Up the Unusual Suspect

Sam Bacile's new movie is getting sour reviews:
"misguided, abuses the universal right of free speech" - The Embassy of the United States in Cairo

"disgusting and reprehensible" - Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State

"reprehensible and disgusting" - Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary

"truly abhorrent" - Denis McDonough, U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser

"heinous and offensive, hateful" - Susan Rice. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

"cruel and disgusting" - Barack Obama, President of the U.S.
That's not to mention street riots in 33 countries. And these reviews are just for the YouTube trailer, God only knows how bad the reviews for the movie itself will be.

It turns out, though, that Sam Bacile is no ordinary Hollywoood hack performing the usual ritual hatchet job on religious sensibilities. Instead, it seems Sam Bacile is one of a dozen aliases for an identify thief named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula who was convicted in 2010 of siphoning $794,701 from phony credit cards and bank accounts he opened in other people's names.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula being taken in for questioning. It's said he went in voluntarily, not under arrest, but when you're still on probation for bank fraud, that may be a distinction without a difference.

Some have compared this image to The Invisible Man.

I suggest it be compared to the classic "Round Up the Usual Suspects" scene in Casablanca. In this case, the suspect is rather unusual.

Sam Bacile is said to have written the script in jail and began filming in summer 2011 a few weeks after being released from a halfway house. He recruited a film crew and cast on the false premise they would be acting in a low budget film to be called Desert Warrior. He then redubbed the role of Master George to be the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. Talk about a director's cut.

The cast and crew released this statement:
"The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer. We are 100% not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose. We are shocked by the drastic re-writes of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred."
Good luck getting the same cast and crew back for the sequel.

In June, the movie opened in Los Angeles under the title Innocence of Bin Laden. The L.A. Times reports that only 10 people showed up for the screening at The Vine Theater on Hollywood Boulevard.

What kind of producer makes a movie designed to open and close on one night? That brings to mind the great Mel Brooks comedy The Producers where Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder plot to rip off their investors by selling shares in a Broadway play several times over and with the intention of producing a flop so that there are no profits to give away their deception.

If Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is the Zero Mostel of this picture, then a man named Joseph Nasralla Abdelmasih may be it's Gene Wilder. His organization, Media for Christ, was reportedly used to obtain film permits and may have provided some of the financing. A porn film maker, Alan Roberts, was hired to direct. I imagine the auditions for Master George/Prophet Muhammad went something like this:

"It's a bang, it's a boom, it's a bang, bang, boom, boom, bang."

Ironically, the violent riots by Muslims around the world pretty much prove the point that the movie set out to make. By its own terms then, the movie must be judged a success.

But this is a movie fraud, not a movie. The trailer is not even especially effective, with a tone that comes across not so much as anti-Islamic but as a parody of anti-Islamic messages. Nothing to get excited about. But that may have been lost when it was translated to Arabic. I wonder, how many of the protesters have even seen a clip?

The U.S. Justice Department now has the unhappy task of sorting out whether this film, which could have been made legally in the U.S., was illegal for Sam Bacile to make in the way that he did due to probation conditions forbidding use of aliases or the internet. Also, I would think cast members may be in court soon asking for the clips to be taken off the internet and to suppress further release of the film as a fraudulent misuse of their images.

By the way, Sam Bacile knew his mark. The characters in the "original" script used to sign on the actors were named George, Condalisa, and Hillary. You sign up to skewer George W. Bush, you end up marked for death by angry jihadists.

Update: Joseph Nassralla says he is no Gene Wilder in this production:
"Nakoula needed a place to film. So I let him use my facility – that is all I did, and is the full extent of my involvement with this project. ... I later discovered that Nakoula, using the name Sam Bacile, had gone to LA Films as producer of Desert Warrior, and used the name of my organization, Media for Christ, to obtain the permit he needed. He did so without my knowledge or permission. ... Nakoula altered the film without anyone’s knowledge, changing its entire focus and dubbing in new dialogue. He edited it. The final product, "Innocence of Muslims," bore no resemblance to the film I thought he was making, or the film the actors thought they were creating. We were shocked."
Update 9/25/2012: added Barack Obama's review delivered at the UN.

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