One could easily carve an interesting hour-long docu out of “Captain Mike Across America,” Michael Moore’s ungainly account of his “Slacker Uprising” campaign to encourage young people to vote for John Kerry — and, more importantly, against George W. Bush — during the 2004 U.S. presidential election. In its current form, however, this repetitious and self-indulgent hodgepodge comes across as a nostalgia-drenched vanity project, with far too much footage of various celebs at assorted gatherings introing Moore as the greatest thing since sliced bread. Theatrical potential is slim, but grassroots circulation of DVDs might prove useful in get-out-the-vote drives for 2008.
More of a genuine “road movie” than anything Moore has made since “The Big One” (1997), “Captain Mike” details the maverick documaker’s cross-country crusade throughout swing states that could have tipped the ’04 electoral balance.
In the weeks leading up to the election, Moore visits 62 cities in 45 days, usually appearing at college campuses to rally the youth vote in a valiant but ultimately vain attempt “to save John Kerry and the Democrats from themselves” after Kerry failed to respond quickly and decisively to swift-boating smears.
By turns sardonic and impassioned, Moore gets big laughs (and, even more hilariously, encourages Republican-generated legal challenges) when he offers ramen noodles or clean underwear to slackerish students who promise to register to vote. But his buffoonery is more apparent than real, a point made abundantly clear whenever Moore launches into a furious rant against the horrors of the Iraq War and the failings of the commander-in-chief.
Here and there, one is reminded of Moore’s under-rated oratorical skills as a stem-winder. Indeed, he is taken very serious by well-to-do conservatives who actually try to bribe campus officials into “disinviting” Moore from a few colleges.
Moore scores points as he turns the tables at a press conference while responding to questions about the “propaganda” content of “Fahrenheit 9/11.” (In his view, “Fahrenheit” provided “anti-propaganda” to counterbalance mainstream media support for the Iraq invasion.)
And while the scenes showcasing strident and/or clueless pro-Bush protestors at Moore appearances are cheap shots, the fact remains that the protestors hang themselves with their own words.
Trouble is, “Captain Mike Across America” focuses too intently on Moore himself, and too little on students who actually were radicalized by his proselytizing. Musical performances by such notables as Joan Baez, R.E.M. and Eddie Vedder suggest that the pic might have worked better as a sort of “Concert for Bangladesh” rockumentary with Moore as master of ceremonies.
But Moore appears determined to give his more relentless critics fresh ammunition by casting himself as the star of the piece. Indeed, had Norman Mailer not already beaten him to it, he could have titled the project “Advertisements for Myself.” As for the title he actually did use — ’nuff said.
Much like “Al Franken: And God Spoke,” “Captain Mike” cops out at the end by not directly addressing the aftermath of the 2004 election. After spending so much time with folks gleefully awaiting the ouster of a sitting president, the aud naturally expects a thoughtful post-mortem by the disappointed crusaders. Based on what appears on screen here, however, Moore (like Franken) simply didn’t know how to deal with Bush’s re-election. So he didn’t. At least, not on screen.
Tech values are adequate.