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In fiery ‘Fahrenheit 11/9,’ Michael Moore targets Trump — and much more

Michael Moore sprays water from Flint, Michigan, at the state governor's home in "Fahrenheit 11/9."

Michael Moore sprays water from Flint, Michigan, at the state governor's home in "Fahrenheit 11/9." | Briarcliff Entertainment

The most provocative and entertaining and enlightening and sometimes infuriating moments in Michael Moore’s documentary “Fahrenheit 11/9” transpire when Moore points his cameras away from Donald J. Trump.

Oh sure, we share in Moore’s disgust and disbelief when he plays clips of Trump saying creepy things about his daughter, demanding to see Barack Obama’s birth certificate, cozying up to despots and dictators, etc., etc.

But these aren’t new observations, and we already know where the famously liberal Moore stands on Trump. And when Moore resorts to the cheap stunt of playing newsreel footage of Hitler but dubbing Trump’s words, “Fahrenheit 11/9” is more embarrassingly base than cutting-edge funny.

The good news is for long stretches of time, Trump disappears from Moore’s radar, as the still-feisty and passionate documentarian focuses on the smugness of Hollywood celebrities and the media experts (and the Democratic nominee) in the months leading up to the 2016 election; the devastating and horrifying water crisis in Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan; the amazing kids from Stoneman Douglas High School who launched a nationwide activist movement, and “disrupter candidates” such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who could no longer sit on the sidelines and idly observe what was happening in Trump’s America.

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Moore strings together a montage of the likes of George Clooney, Nancy Pelosi and various high-profile TV anchors and commentators laughing out loud at even the notion of Trump winning the election. He plays a clip of Hillary Clinton onstage, saying, “Thanks to Jay-Z … Big Sean … Chance the Rapper,” and says, “She had no idea who any of these rappers were.”

Meanwhile, Clinton’s advisers were telling her not to go to Wisconsin or Michigan. Moore points out something the Democratic party should have considered: When your candidate’s actual presence in a state is considered a negative, you might have a contest on your hands.

• • •

Moore makes an abrupt pivot from the election of Trump to Flint, where the city changed its water sourcing from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River — resulting in tens of thousands of residents being exposed to dangerously high levels of lead.

We get some vintage Michael Moore stunts, e.g., Moore striding into the state capitol with handcuffs, announcing his intentions to make a citizen’s arrest of Gov. Rick Snyder, and Moore commandeering a Flint water truck, parking it in front of Snyder’s private residence and using a hose to spray the governor’s lawn. No doubt it’s fun for Moore to execute these pranks — but the gags seem pointless and tired.

Much more memorable are the moments when Moore speaks to Flint locals, who speak with great passion and heartbreaking honesty about their plight — and Moore’s (deserved) skewering of then-President Barack Obama’s stunningly tone-deaf visit to Flint, during which Obama took on an almost cavalier tone and on two occasions asked for a glass of Flint water and took dramatic sips, as if to tell the simple folks of Flint: Don’t worry, you’re good.

The Flint segment feels like a (very good) documentary within Moore’s larger, two-hour film. But then, like a cable news host, Moore continues to hop from topic to topic: spotlighting a handful of unlikely underdog candidates such as the aforementioned Ocasio-Cortez, then spending time with striking West Virginia teachers, then heading to Florida to meet with Parkland teens such as David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez and Cameron Kasky, who camped out in a nondescript, windowless room and used social media (and their awe-inspiring energy and commitment) to organize the March for Our Lives movement.

We know where Moore stands on the political spectrum, but “Fahrenheit 11/9” isn’t an anti-Republican screed. He’s arguing, quite convincingly, it’s the system that’s broken, with career politicians on both sides of the aisle culpable and accountable.

It’s been nearly 30 years since Moore’s breakout documentary “Roger & Me.” We all know he’s done quite well for himself. Heck, he’s a one-percenter. He’s still sporting the rumpled clothes, the unkempt hair, the beat-up baseball cap because he chooses to — not because he’s still a struggling and scrappy activist trying to eke out a living while using his cameras and his outsize personality to fight for the underdog.

That doesn’t mean Moore has lost his fire, or his touch for poking us in our collective consciousness (and consciences) to say, WAKE UP.

‘Fahrenheit 11/9’

Briarcliff Entertainment presents a documentary directed by Michael Moore. Rated R (for language and some disturbing material/images). Running time: 125 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.