A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
Swimming upstream against this conventional wisdom, here comes Michael Moore, the proletarian in the baseball cap. In his new documentary, "The Big One,'' he crisscrosses the country on a book tour, and finds factories closing, corporations shipping jobs overseas, and couples working extra jobs to make ends meet. "It's like being divorced,'' a mother with three jobs tells him in Centralia, Ill. "I only see the kids on weekends.'' Many locals have lost their jobs with the closure of, ironically, the Payday candy bar factory.
Moore became famous overnight in 1989 with his hilarious documentary "Roger & Me,'' in which he stalked Roger Smith, president of General Motors, in an attempt to find out why GM was closing its plants in Flint, Mich., and moving production to Mexico. The movie was filled with cheap shots and media manipulation, and proud of it: Part of the fun was watching Moore turn the imagery of corporate America against itself.
In 1989, though, we were in a slump. Now times are good. Is Moore's message outdated? Not necessarily. If unemployment is low, that doesn't mean the mother in Centralia is prosperous. And what about the workers at Johnson Products in Milwaukee, which celebrated $500 million in profits by closing its factory and moving to Mexico? Moore visits their factory and tries to present a Downsizer of the Year Award, along with his check for 80 cents: "The first hour's wage for a Mexican worker.'' He likes to write checks. He creates fictitious committees to make donations to 1996 presidential candidates: Pat Buchanan's campaign cashes a $100 check from Abortionists for Buchanan, and Moore also writes checks from Satan Worshippers for Dole, Pedophiles for Free Trade (for Perot) and Hemp Growers for Clinton. Watching Steven Forbes on TV, he notes that the candidate never blinks, and gets a NYU doctor to say, "That's not human.'' The occasion for this documentary is Moore's 45-city tour to promote Downsize This!, his best seller about hard times in the midst of prosperity. We see him lecturing campus crowds, confronting security guards, sympathizing with the striking workers at a Borders Bookstore. He's an unapologetic liberal, pro-union, anti-fat cat; during an interview with Studs Terkel, he beams beatifically as Studs mentions the 60th anniversary of the CIO's sit-down strikes against the carmakers.
The movie is smart, funny and edited cleverly; that helps conceal the fact that it's mostly recycled information. There is little here that "Roger & Me'' didn't say first, and more memorably. But we get two documentaries for the price of one: The second one is about book tours, with Moore on a grueling schedule of one city a day, no sleep, endless talk shows and book signings, plus his guerrilla raids on downsizers.