David Zucker writes and directs this send-up of Oscar-winning documentary maker Michael Moore. Zucker is one of the men responsible for the Airplane and The Naked Gun movies. He crafts this comedy using the same conventions, and certainly the same style. In fact, he even uses the same star.
Leslie Nielsen stars as a nameless grandpa who attends the July 4th celebration of his family. Not before long, he's sitting at a backyard picnic table telling his grandchildren a story. At one point, Nielsen goes from narrator to a character in his own tale. Yet, both of his incarnations here have the sensibility not too far removed from Frank Drebin.
Despite being the summer, grandpa gives his interpretation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. In grandpa's version, though, Ebenezer Scrooge isn't a greedy businessman. Scrooge is actually an anti-American filmmaker named Michael Malone. The name has been changed, but there's no doubt that Malone is supposed to be a representation of real-life filmmaker Michael Moore.
You don't get Scrooge penny-pinching the life out of Bob Cratchit and taking him away from his poor and sick family during their Christmas celebration. Instead, you get Malone not visiting his own family during their July 4th barbecue, so that he can protest a rally for the troops on leave from fighting in the war on terror and most likely Iraq.
Instead of the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come, the ghosts of George S. Patton, George Washington, and Trace Adkins visit Malone. They come, not to teach the importance of Christmas cheer. They teach in its place the importance of war and the Patriot Act, the stupidity and vulgarity of liberal colleges and universities, and the senselessness of the ACLU.
This film wears its right-wing politics on its sleeve. It would almost be as if Stephen Colbert made a movie, but not as brilliant. There are in fact several problems here.
First off, I don't care what side of the aisle you're on, when making a good movie, what must be paramount is either a good character or a good story. I'm afraid Zucker here sacrifices both in order to drum into our heads his right-wing philosophy and conservative ideal of America.
Kevin Farley, who is the brother of late Saturday Night Live comedian, Chris Farley, plays Michael Malone. Despite having a very striking similarity to his brother, Kevin Farley is no Chris Farley. His performance of Malone is lame, and I can't tell if it was because of his ridiculous shtick or if the material just wasn't that well written, though I suspect it was a combination of both.
Secondly, unless you were a person who only and constantly watched the FOX News Channel, many of the jokes might fall on deaf ears. It's the same problem I had with Tropic Thunder. The jokes and gags are too inside. They're jokes that Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity are probably laughing about in the halls of Ruper Murdoch's empire, but the rest of us out here are scratching our heads.
The only laughs I heard were ones at the typical pratfalls that occur in these kinds of movies. Farley falls down and is slapped around a lot. The first few times are worthy of chuckles, but the filmmakers keep reverting back to it, as if they know they couldn't keep a regular movie-going audience with just intelligent or smart humor. So, they figure, just have Bill O'Reilly slap Farley in the face, but, it gets to a point where it feels like the filmmakers are slapping us in the face too. It gets repetitive and old, even in this brief yet obvious satire.
Really, unless you're a fan of The O'Reilly Factor, would anyone get the gag of a Hollywood award show being put on by a website called MooveAlong.org? Would anyone get the ACLU being depicted as zombies? I do watch the Factor, and I'm not sure I exactly got the metaphor.
There are some things in this film that don't quite make sense either. The filmmakers bolster this notion of America being this great and wholesome place, despite the Hollywood films to the contrary. Yet, the filmmakers don't hesitate from having young children curse like drunken sailors, while ramping up its own homophobia. The film also seemingly contradicts itself by constantly disparaging documentaries while at the same time ascribing so much influence as a result of this one documentary maker. Make up your minds. Are documentaries influential or not?
Now, I like Michael Moore and I have enjoyed a few of his films, but I am in no way his defender. A few years ago, Michael Wilson made an independent film called Michael Moore Hates America (2004), which accomplished what this comedy attempts, and that's argue against the award-winning filmmaker. That indie movie succeeded where this one failed and was a whole lot funnier.
This roast of Michael Moore felt like it had to be over-the-top to make its point, and it didn't, but in its attempts to argue against Michael Moore, it falls victim to the same crimes that they claim he and all of Hollywood commit. The film accuses Moore of fudging the facts and distorting the truth, but it's guilty of the same thing.
This film is a satire. Obviously, there are going to be some distortions, some caricatures. One of the better scenes was where they spoof Moore's Sicko (2007) when Moore visits Cuba, making a point about the benefits of that country's healthcare, they paint a picture in the extreme opposite of the one Moore paints.
Other films like Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), which weaved together some grand conspiracy theories concerning September 11, 2001, and President George W. Bush, are ripe for ridicule and criticism of this kind, but they really needed to frame the argument better.
But, they miss the mark with portraying Moore as a blind pacifist. What Moore has done is criticize the president for the way he's conducted both the war on terror and the war in Iraq. The filmmakers start off by comparing the argument against going into Iraq with Hitler's appeasement. Is this their justification for the Iraq war? It doesn't make sense. The filmmakers don't even mention the word Iraq. For all this talk about Al Qaeda in the former Saddam Hussein country, they never bring it up. All is mentioned is just the war on terror, the war on terror, the war on terror. It's like a mantra of the blind warrior.
They posture Moore, though, as a blind pacifist, as someone who would have been against the Independence War and the Civil War, basically implying if Moore had his way, there would still be slavery. Moore is not some left or east coast elitist. Moore is from middle America, not the Middle East. He's from Michigan, raised Catholic. They stereotype him as being out of touch, which couldn't be further from the truth.
For Moore, and for many liberals, including Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden, they support the war on terror, and continuing the war in Afghanistan until Osama bin Laden is either caught or killed. Their beef lies in Bush's handling of Iraq, and as a consequence the total war on terror.
Yet, it must be said that just because you disagree with the policies or practices of the present administration doesn't mean you are anti-American. America is also not monolithic. There's no one idea of what we are. We're a melting pot, not only of ethnicities but of ideologies. We're not one. We're many.
But, the filmmakers go for this lily-white, one-sided picture of what America is that is simply hokey and does little for their cause but placate those who already agree with them. Now, that being said, Michael Moore has been guilty of the same thing himself. It's just time to recognize that both sides can be wrong.
One Star out of Five
Rated PG-13 for irreverent content, language and brief drug material
Running Time: 1 hr. and 23 mins.