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Aside from all the benefits it brings to society illuminating the threat of cyberbullying, revealing the horrifying combination of a lack of scruples and an unlimited bank account, and showing the power of two pissed-off journalists the documentary "Tickled" is worth a look simply because it's a wonderfully told and singularly bizarre story.
Directors David Farrier and Dylan Reeve start with a typical day at Farrier's day job as a lifestyle reporter for New Zealand's TV3 network alternating between celebrity interviews and oddball human-interest stories. (In broadcast parlance, these sort of segments sometimes are called "and finallys," because they invariably come at the end of the broadcast and are introduced with "And finally. …")
One day, Farrier gets a news release announcing auditions for something called "competitive endurance tickling." After looking at a few videos of young muscular men in adidas gear tickling another young man strapped to a mattress, Farrier thinks this is a perfect story to end a newscast. He emails the company, Jane O'Brien Media, with an interview request.
Instead of a polite refusal, Farrier gets a quite nasty response: "[A]ssociation with a homosexual journalist is not something we will embrace." (Yes, Farrier is gay, but so what? Also, he opines, the videos do have a certain homoerotic quality.)
Farrier and his friend Reeve, incensed by this harsh response, decide to dig deeper. Two representatives of Jane O'Brien Media fly from Los Angeles to Auckland, at first friendly but soon quite hostile and making veiled threats that if the journalists pursue the story, things could get quite nasty and litigious.
Undaunted, Farrier and Reeve press on. To describe what happens from here would steal much of the power of the filmmakers' storytelling. Know that it involves young men suffering online harassment over past participation in tickling videos, and one man with a lot of money and no reservations about using that money as a weapon.
Farrier and Reeve employ old-school shoe-leather journalism, traveling to L.A. and New York to confront the people behind this story. They also use some 21st-century investigative tools, following a trail of online documents that reveal a pattern of cyber-abuse that's breathtaking in scope and pettiness.
The scenes in which Farrier (who serves as narrator and onscreen reporter) and Reeve (who mostly stays behind the camera) confront the movie's central nemesis produce more white-knuckle tension than some suspense thrillers. But it's their determination that makes "Tickled" a case study in journalistic courage.
The pursuit of a light news story turns into something much darker and scarier in this fascinating documentary.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, July 15.
Rating • R for language.
Running time • 96 minutes.