Review: ‘Canadian Bacon’

Recalling such bygone droll political comedies as "Dr. Strangelove" and "The Mouse That Roared," Michael Moore's long-curing "Canadian Bacon" is an amusing outing for a sophisticated crowd. More hip and flip than broadly humorous, pic is too much of an in-joke to flow in the mainstream. It should attract some upscale attention, but seems ultimately destined for cult status. The film introduces American president Alan Alda as an ineffectual peacenik more mindful of his popularity than how to shake the nation from its Cold War mentality. White House spin doctor Stuart Smiley (Kevin Pollak) hits on the idea of a northern scapegoat after news of a cross-border incident during a hockey tourney. He's quickly backed by military honcho Gen. Dick Panzer (Rip Torn). Soon phony skirmishes are concocted to fuel tension, and the gullible -- including Niagara Falls, N.Y., sheriff Bud Boomer (John Candy) -- not only buy it, they organize their own patriotic, gun-toting forays. The sedate hamlet of Niagara is lacking in any peace dividend because Hacker Industries ("Peace Through Fear ... Since 1947"), the local munitions factory, is closing.

Recalling such bygone droll political comedies as “Dr. Strangelove” and “The Mouse That Roared,” Michael Moore’s long-curing “Canadian Bacon” is an amusing outing for a sophisticated crowd. More hip and flip than broadly humorous, pic is too much of an in-joke to flow in the mainstream. It should attract some upscale attention, but seems ultimately destined for cult status.

The film introduces American president Alan Alda as an ineffectual peacenik more mindful of his popularity than how to shake the nation from its Cold War mentality.

White House spin doctor Stuart Smiley (Kevin Pollak) hits on the idea of a northern scapegoat after news of a cross-border incident during a hockey tourney. He’s quickly backed by military honcho Gen. Dick Panzer (Rip Torn).

Soon phony skirmishes are concocted to fuel tension, and the gullible — including Niagara Falls, N.Y., sheriff Bud Boomer (John Candy) — not only buy it, they organize their own patriotic, gun-toting forays.

The sedate hamlet of Niagara is lacking in any peace dividend because Hacker Industries (“Peace Through Fear … Since 1947”), the local munitions factory, is closing.

The film has all the makings of a funny, acidic satire, but once the groundwork has been established, Moore falters in developing it to a conclusion — logical or otherwise.

The second half of the movie is little more than a series of one-joke skits and a preposterous end-of-the-world finale atop Toronto’s CN Tower.

Moore nonetheless has assembled a skilled cast and crew who attempt to divert attention away from the narrative sag. It’s an extremely handsome film thanks to the work of cameraman Haskell Wexler and production designer Carol Spier.

Though Alda, Pollak, Torn, Candy and the others have been cast to type, each proves quite canny about avoiding caricature.

Offscreen, “Canadian Bacon” has had a tortured history, from the death of Candy to a brief tenure at MGM/UA, where, following testing, it was decided the film was too specialized.

The idea’s core appeal hasn’t withered with time, even if a few details have become factually inaccurate.

Film’s sense of conspiracy is carried into the casting: Canadian-born Candy plays an American while New Yorker Wallace Shawn is cast as the Canadian prime minister.

Canadian Bacon

(Comedy -- Color)

Production

A Gramercy Pictures release of a Polygram Filmed Entertainment and Propaganda Films presentation of a David Brown/Maverick Picture Company production. Producers, David Brown, Ron Rotholz, Michael Moore. Executive producers, Freddy DeMann, Sigurjon Sighvatsson. Co-producer, Kathleen Glynn. Directed and written by Michael Moore.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Haskell Wexler; editors, Wendy Stanzler, Michael Berenbaum; music, Elmer Bernstein, Peter Bernstein; production design, Carol Spier; art direction, Tamara Deverell; costume design, Kathleen Glynn; sound (Dolby), Douglas Ganton; assistant director, Terry Miller; casting, Lynn Kressell. Reviewed at Sunset Screening Room, L.A., May 9, 1995. (In Cannes Film Festival -- Un Certain Regard.) Running time: 91 min.

With

President of the U.S. ... Alan Alda Sheriff Bud Boomer ... John Candy Deputy Honey ... Rhea Perlman Stuart Smiley ... Kevin Pollak Gen. Dick Panzer ... Rip Torn Kabral Jabar ... Bill Nunn Roy Boy ... Kevin J. O'Connor R.J. Hacker ... G.D. Spradlin Clarence Thomason ... Carlton Watson

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