Documentarian Patrick Creadon, whose last film, "Wordplay," made the topic of crossword puzzles as scintillating as it could possibly get, tackles another potentially mind-numbing subject in "I.O.U.S.A." And he does a nice job of making the daunting math and economic theories associated with our national debt accessible.
But he didn't need to try so hard. The nation's financial condition is so out of control that you'll either watch the film in horror-stricken fascination or run screaming out of the theater from the hopelessness of it all.
The good news is that America has been running deficits off and on (mostly on) since the Revolutionary War, and the nation has generally prospered anyway. The bad news is, the one we have now is by far the worst, and with massive commitments to programs such as Social Security and Medicare looming as the baby boom demographic reaches retirement age, debt-reduction solutions seem few and painful.
You might suspect that by pointing this out, Creadon's film pushes a conservative economic philosophy. It doesn't really seem to, though, since "I.O.U.S.A." makes it clear that most of the current federal debt was run up during the Republican Reagan and Bush II administrations, with a brief period of semi-balanced budgets under Democrat Clinton in between.
Power Point graphics lend some visual panache to the number presentations. Many experts, officials and affected regular folks are interviewed, but Creadon focuses primarily on former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker and Bob Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan group that tries to spread the word about the looming debt crisis. Neither is the most charismatic man in the world, but as Bixby and Walker are followed on their bare-bones, national "Fiscal Wake-Up Tour," their message gains weighty, detailed credence.
They try to be optimistic about it. But you still leave "I.O.U.S.A." feeling like your mortgage payment just ballooned on the day you lost your job.