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Following Franken gets tiring

For Al Franken's partisans, the holiday season comes early. ``God Spoke" trails the sketch comedian turned political pundit and best-selling author throughout 2004 as he plugs his latest book, helps launch the lefty talk-radio network Air America, and tirelessly goes after Bill O'Reilly like a bespectacled rottweiler.

The movie serves as a reasonable scrapbook of Franken's life, dating from the publication of his book ``Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them " to the de nouement of the 2004 presidential election. What this documentary lacks in intent, insight, and surprise it makes up for in thoroughness.

Franken drops by The Boston Globe. He visits some young math whizzes. He performs live in Minnesota. He visits his childhood home (someone else lives there now). He pitches his show for the moneybags who'll be bankrolling his radio outing. As part of a USO tour, he plays Saddam Hussein for the troops in Iraq. He shares a Q&A session with Ann Coulter (they sit at different tables). He visits the Republican and Democratic conventions. And he sheds several tears when John Kerry fails to unseat George W. Bush. We meet Franken's wife, Franny, and see Franken impersonate Henry Kissinger in front of Henry Kissinger. This is all certainly watchable.

Neither a profile nor a critique, though, the film's only focus is its subject's mild self-regard. Made by the frequent collaborators Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus under the auspices of documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker , the film is mercifully free of talking heads. It's of a piece with other projects Hegedus and Pennebaker made with other directors, documentaries such as ``Don't Look Back," ``The War Room," ``Startup Dot Com ," and ``Moon Over Broadway ," that, with real curiosity, peel back the curtain on American political and entertainment culture. ``God Spoke" has a hard time expanding Franken's reactionary brand of skepticism into any larger ideas.

Part of the problem is that the people around Franken in this movie are more interesting than Franken himself. Former Senator Alan Simpson and former New York Times op-ed columnist William Safire, for instance, make dazzlingly tough stand-ins for the box-seat Muppet curmudgeons, Statler and Waldorf. And Franken's ex-Air America co host, Katherine Lanpher , is more personable and a lot breezier than he is.

We do learn, though, that Franken is completely committed to his anti conservative cause, going so far as to consider running for a Senate seat in 2008. That's a possibility that makes ``God Spoke" seem all the more like a warm-up for a much worthier event.

Wesley Morris can be reached at

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