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Review: The Cartel

... flunks
By ALICIA POTTER  |  April 28, 2010
1.5 1.5 Stars

First-time documentarian and TV journalist Bob Bowdon’s broad primer on what’s rotting American education runs like a 90-minute 20/20 segment. Zeroing in on the flush yet failing New Jersey school system, Bowdon opens with a brain-numbing barrage of statistics, close-ups of Web pages and headlines, “quizzes” (spoiler: they’re all trick questions!), video clips, talking heads, and graphics so amateurish, they recall the work of Fisher-Price.

Which is a shame, because the ham-handedness overwhelms the compelling, politicized debates about voucher programs and teacher unions and, when the film finally gets to it, the effect on real kids. Then there’s Bob himself — a heavy narrator and on-screen presence, he often crosses into the risible, as in skeptical reaction shots that rival Will Ferrell’s in Anchorman.

The topic may be urgent, and the fallout heartbreaking, but this clumsy treatment barely passes.

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