‘Where to Invade Next’: The less Michael Moore, the better

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We call Michael Moore’s films “documentaries” because they’re not scripted fiction — but they’re really performance art/commentary, with Moore front and center, soaking up nearly as much camera time as all his subjects put together.

In the occasionally poignant but ham-handed and only semi-funny “Where to Invade Next,” Moore is at his shtickiest as he travels from one foreign country to the next, cherry-picking one thing each nation does better than we do — even though the ideas being implemented in those seemingly idyllic lands were born in the U.S.A.

“Where to Invade Next” begins with Moore telling us, in his best comedic voice, he was recently summoned to Washington, D.C., to address our military leaders, who are perplexed as to why the United States has lost so many wars. (Of course, Moore didn’t really meet with the heads of our military branches. It’s a knee-slapper of a JOKE. At least Moore seems to think it’s funny.)

Moore’s proposal: He’ll go on a tour of European and North African countries and claim each land’s best ideas as our own.

Cut to Moore on a boat, wearing an Army jacket, holding a giant American flag and proclaiming, “USA, yeah!”

In Italy, Moore visits a vibrant young couple and “learns” Italian workers are guaranteed more than 30 days paid vacation, five months paid maternity leave and 15 days honeymoon pay. The CEO of Ducati tells Moore if his workers are well-rested and happy, they’ll be more productive.

Sounds fantastic, and it IS fantastic. What Moore doesn’t mention is Italy has only recently climbed out of a prolonged recession, and the unemployment rate stands at 11.4%. (According to Esquire.com, when an group of international journalists screened “Where to Invade Next” at the Toronto film festival last fall and Moore said Italians take two-hour lunches every day, someone shouted, “It’s not true!”)

No matter. Anyone who has ever seen a Michael Moore film — or possesses healthy doses of skepticism and common sense — can quickly grasp that Moore is going to tailor each visit to suit his premise, and isn’t going to waste any time presenting caveats or downsides.

The French serve better school lunches than we do. Finland has the best school system in the world, and we could learn a lot from their methods. In Iceland, the economy was turned around after women were put in charge. In Portugal, all drugs have been decriminalized. In Germany, reminders of the Holocaust abound, so the German people will never forget or repeat the past — unlike in America, says Moore, where we sweep our worst injustices under the historical rug.

Well. Of course we have a long way to go, but it’s hardly as if there’s minimal discussion in this country about the horrors of the past, from slavery to civil rights abuses to discrimination against women, the LGBT community and minorities.

Moore caps off each visit by telling the amused, sometimes confused locals he is claiming their land for the United States — and then he plants the American flag with great gusto. It’s a nonsensical bit that grows less funny every time we see it.

“The American dream seems to be alive and well everywhere but in America,” laments Moore. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) this nation is divided along racial, political and economic lines, and not everyone has the same shot at the American dream. But does the American dream really beat with a stronger pulse in every one of these relatively small (and in some cases tiny) nations? Seems like classic Moore hyperbole.

“Where to Invade” does present some compelling cases for shaking up the way we do things here, though I doubt we’re going to see a 21-year cap on prison sentences, and convicted murderers roaming about in minimum-security facilities, as is the case in Norway. And there are some serious and involving segments — which usually occur when Moore stays behind the camera and gives his subjects time to share their stories.

As is the case with most of Moore’s non-fiction films, he ends on a note of optimism. He truly believes we can Make America Great Again.

Gee. Where have I heard that before?

[s3r star=2.5/4]

North End Films presents a documentary directed by Michael Moore. Running time: 119 minutes. Rated R (for language, some violent images, drug use and brief graphic nudity). Opens Friday at local theaters. 

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