Nov 5, 2008 at 12:00 am

One of the astounding outcomes of this stranger-than-fiction presidential election is that the terms "fiscal responsibility" and "patriotism" are now being used in the same sentence. The devoted policy wonks of I.O.U.S.A. would be proud, although they'd be the first to admit that it's just the first step. For a nation as addicted to easy fixes as to easy credit, tackling something as overwhelming as the national debt is going to take a major adjustment in not just actions, but attitude.

While I.O.U.S.A. isn't about our current financial meltdown, there's prescience in director Patrick Creadon's look at American attitudes toward entitlement. Not just the government programs (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) that make up a large chunk of our annual budget, but the expectations of everyday Americans about what we should possess regardless of what we can actually afford. The scary undercurrent of the informative I.O.U.S.A. is the nagging worry that America has reached a tipping point, that we've fallen into a depression of our own making.

That's the concern of the subdued alarmists of I.O.U.S.A., led by U.S. Comptroller General David Walker and Bob Bixby of the Concord Coalition. Soft-spoken yet immensely passionate, they head off on a Fiscal Wake-Up Tour to get the word out, seemingly undeterred by small crowds and sparse media coverage. Walker and Bixby are like a great comic team; the now-retired comptroller is the straight man, zealously espousing the dangers of unsustainable fiscal policies with the moral clarity of a true believer (despite years as a federal bureaucrat), and the Tab-imbibing sidekick provides a wry smile and droll observations about the absurdity of our appalling situation.

They're backed up by financial heavyweights like Warren Buffett, whose Fortune magazine parable "Squandersville versus Thiftsville" is re-created as a financial Fractured Fairy Tale, and former Secretary of Treasury Robert Rubin, who still seems dumbstruck that the federal budget could go so awry after the equilibrium of the Clinton years.

Creadon proved that he's a master of minutiae with Wordplay (2006), his witty look at crossword puzzles and the people who love them. I.O.U.S.A. tackles some heavy issues and tries to lighten the load, breaking down the deficit into four categories for detailed exploration (budget, savings, trade and leadership) and utilizing the kind of brain-tickling graphics that simultaneously illustrate and educate.

Despite all the humor in I.O.U.S.A., everyone here agrees that it's no laughing matter.

Showing at the AMC Forum 30, 44681 Mound Rd., Sterling Heights; 586-254-5663.

Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].