Coming to DVD tomorrow, Tuesday, August 15:
BETTING ON ZERO
An investigation into Herbalife’s business model in the wake of a hedge fund’s attack on the company.
Braun’s entry into this examination of the mammoth multi-level marketing corporation is Bill Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital, who shorted Herbalife several years ago and frequently defends his assertion that the company will fail because of illicit practices. While critics charge that Ackman has a vested financial stake in bringing Herbalife down, he counters that he’s doing this on ethical grounds, and that’s generally the view that Braun follows. While the film does briefly explore the antagonism between Ackman and rival Carl Icahn, who takes the opportunity to double down on Herbalife, Braun wisely expands from this specific financial world focus to take a closer look at Herbalife’s alleged pyramid scheme and those who have suffered serious consequences from becoming involved in the company – in recent years, the Latino community in large numbers. Using a fairly conventional approach, including some weak narration and excessive, repetitive graphics, the filmmaker nevertheless presents convincing, damning arguments that Herbalife’s model is less about selling its products and more about recruiting gullible distributors, tellingly substantiated by company executives in clips from insider celebrations/motivational events, and, more importantly, by Federal Trade Commission investigation findings. At the same time, by taking Ackman’s unfulfilled crusade as its structuring device, the film remains slightly unsatisfying, never reaching the hoped for conclusion signaled by its title.