Looking like an unmade bed in his signature uniform of T-shirt, jeans, rumpled fatigue jacket and ball cap — adorned with the Detroit Tigers logo-ed letter D (he’s a Michigan boy, don’t you know) — Michael Moore places himself squarely in the center ring of all of his pictures.
And there, displaying an ego as big as his waistline, with an attitude marbled with cynicism and, often, condescension, he plays the role of ringmaster and provocateur.
He’s an outsize personality, and his look and his attitudes are his brand. Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him. And that makes him the most prominent documentary maker of our times: winner of an Oscar with “Bowling for Columbine” and holder of the record for most financially successful documentary so far, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” grossing in excess of $200 million worldwide.
More than any other documentarian you can name, Moore brings instant attention to the important issues he spotlights, whether it’s gun violence (“Bowling for Columbine”) or the inequities in the U.S. health care system (“Sicko”). There is no balance in his movies. They’re bullhorns of advocacy that guarantee attention will be paid to what they’re advocating. And also, they’re entertaining. The guy is a showman as well as a troublemaker.
So it is in “Where To Invade Next.”
Claiming the U.S. spends far too much on its military and gets way too little in return for its investment — Iraq war, anyone? — Moore travels around the world to visit countries whose social spending priorities, he contends, unlike those in America, are not screwed up.
Carrying Old Glory over his shoulder, Moore tells the people he interviews he’s come to their nations as an invader to take the best features of their societies and bring them to the U.S.
In Italy, he finds a society in which workers have eight weeks of paid vacation a year, thanks to the efforts of labor unions. In Finland — where the school year is short, no homework is assigned and no standardized tests are administered — student achievement far outstrips that in the U.S. In Slovenia, college tuition is free so graduates aren’t burdened with debt as are their American counterparts. In Germany, work-life balance makes for a prosperous and contented middle class.
In Portugal, laws are such that no one is busted for drugs. Moore contrasts that with U.S. drug policies, asserting that the war on drugs was contrived to counter the gains made by black Americans in the civil-rights movement and to disproportionally incarcerate black males and turn them into slave labor in prison factories. Prisons are humane in Norway. In Muslim Tunisia, women helped bring down a dictatorship and won constitutional protections of their rights (and real legislative power). In Iceland, women were instrumental in pulling the country out of the meltdown of its banking system, which is blamed on male bankers.
“My mission is to pick the flowers, not the weeds,” Moore says, explaining why he makes no effort to address, or even acknowledge, social problems of the countries he visits.
America bashing? Without a doubt. But it comes from a place of profound disappointment.
At the end, in Berlin, recalling his days when he chipped away at the Berlin Wall at the time when the wall came down, Moore says that the ideas he found overseas originated in America. The struggle for equal rights for women being one area where, he says, the U.S. once led the way.
“We need to go to the American lost and found,” he says, to rediscover and rededicate ourselves to the ideals that have inspired people around the world.
As with any Michael Moore movie, attention must be paid.
Where to Invade Next
3 1/2 stars out of 5
Director: Michael Moore.
Running time: 1:59.
Rated: R, for language, some violent images, drug use and brief graphic nudity.