Four geeks--lion tamer Dave Hoover, topiary gardener George Mendonca, mole-rat enthusiast Ray Mendez, and robot scientist Rodney Brooks--get their moments in the sun in Errol Morris' documentary Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control. The film cleverly interweaves the stories of these four men who have nothing in common save their animal-related obsessions. Using miscellaneous science and nature footage, scenes from a corny '40s adventure serial featuring a whip-wielding proto-Indiana Jones character, a variety of filming techniques, interviews, and shots from the subjects' daily lives, Morris gives us a vivid picture of the ancient man-against-nature struggle. These four individuals, each in his own way, wish to harness the beauty and power of nature. Lion tamer Hoover spends a lot of time assuring us that his work is extremely dangerous, but shows no signs of wishing to quit. Septuagenarian Mendonca, in his vast garden filled with huge green animals crafted from privet and boxwood, embodies a calm perseverance as he quietly struggles against the elements (his garden was once nearly destroyed by a storm) and the ceaseless growth of the plants. Mendez ponders the significance of the naked mole-rat, a burrowing African mammal whose society is more like that of a hive insect. And Brooks dreams of a future when his six-legged, insect-like robots will be seen as the first step in the evolution of a new life form.

Morris' film is stirring, and at times, amazing. Rife with frenzied activity, the overall effect is somehow calming. The beauty and ugliness, the harmony and disunion found in nature are given a charmingly human slant--our relationship to other species is examined without passing judgment. The shots of these odd men in their odd worlds are beautifully done, particularly those in Mendonca's garden. Although some of the stock footage is a touch overused, the movie is generally uplifting and inspirational, a triumph of the nerds.

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