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MOVIE REVIEW: Winnebago Man

Worth the drive to see this documenary

Winnebago Man: Rates a B-.
Courtesy photo

In the very funny and entertaining trailers for Winnebago Man, we see a quote from Michael Moore. It says “One of the funniest documentaries ever made.”

Maybe one of the funniest trailers for a documentary ever made, but off the top of my head, I can name five funnier documentaries that have come out in the last five years.

That doesn’t mean this isn’t entertaining. It certainly is.

We watch as first-time filmmaker Ben Steinbauer hunts down Jack Rebney – a name most people won’t recognize, but who appeared on a video that many millions of folks saw (can a documentary on Clara Peller be that far off?)

The former newsman was hired to do marketing videos for Winnebago. The outtakes had Rebney screaming and cursing about flies, the heat, the copy (which is especially odd, since he wrote it), and everything under the sun.

Part of the problem the movie has is that a little of that goes a long way. And we keep seeing the same clips over and over.

Steinbauer does a good job of filling the movie out, though.

We get a brief history on cyber bullying. And I learned that the nerdy kid who was doing the Star Wars moves with a stick, ended up being so humiliated by the video – he sued and won $250,000 from the classmates that posted it.

Many people will also get to see videos they may not have seen for the first time – clips that have now been made famous by TV shows, not just on YouTube.

I once argued with a friend who didn’t understand why a movie was being made about Andy Kaufman (played nicely by Jim Carrey). Certainly an argument could be made about whether Rebney deserves his life story told. That doesn’t mean this movie doesn’t have many compelling moments. A few of those moments I can’t mention, because it would spoil the few surprises the film has in store.

I could’ve done without the Hollywood writers (none that anybody would know) talking about how much they’ve enjoyed the Rebney videos. That adds nothing. I would’ve preferred Steinbauer talk about other “outtakes” that ended up being recorded and embarrassed the people in them.

Orson Welles yelling about how bad the copy is during a frozen pea commercial (as if he was making The Magnificant Ambersons in commercial form).

There’s Kasey Casem yelling about a dedication for a dead dog, coming out of an up-tempo song.

And more recently, we had tapes of Bill O’Reilly having trouble reading a teleprompter and Christian Bale yelling at someone on the set of Terminator: Salvation.

I’m always surprised at how long these documentaries take. The well-reviewed Hoop Dreams took over 10 years. This film took over three, and we really don’t learn all that much about Rebney (that’s not the director's fault, as we see he tried numerous times to get him to open up and talk about his life). It doesn’t make it any less frustrating, though.

Although some would say, not knowing everything about this guy makes it all more intriguing.

Does the director exploit this guy? Well, sure; but who cares? I didn’t have a problem with that. Rebney is well aware of everything he’s getting himself into.

Watching him is like watching that angry uncle you have at Thanksgiving dinner, who will predictable start shouting about something in the course of the dinner, you just aren’t sure what. Perhaps the only difference being Rebney’s rants are pretty much all the same (Dick Cheney ruined the country, Wal-Mart is bad, etc.).

I was entertained enough watching this movie to recommend it, but I think you can get more laughs in one or two episodes of Tosh.O, a half hour cable show that televises the best video moments of the week.

Winnebago Man gets a B-.