This review was updated at 8:01 p.m.
Michael Moore gets a dose of his own medicine in “Michael Moore Hates America.” Far more jocular, good-natured and thoughtful than Moore partisans might expect, docu is fashioned by filmmaker Michael Wilson in Moore’s trademark style — down to the imposing first-person narration and commentary — while trying to expose the tricks and deceptions the man behind “Roger & Me,” “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11” supposedly foists on the public. This canny blend of polemics and entertainment should stir up distrib interest, though it will be a race to the finish to get it in front of auds before Election Day.
Wilson’s pic isn’t as tied to the current political season as “Fahrenheit” is, since its subject is the evergreen topic of how a documaker toys with facts to make his point. But this right-of-center mouthpiece is part of a wavelet of pro-GOP, anti-Moore pics (including Lionel Chetwynd’s “Celsius 41.11” and Dick Morris’ direct-to-vid “Fahrenhype 9/11,” released day-and-date with “Fahrenheit’s” vid launch) being rushed out in response to the global impact and $200 million-plus B.O. punch of Moore’s assault on the Bush Doctrine and the U.S. war in Iraq.
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Wilson’s contribution was arguably the first in the trend, and likely the most personal and memorable, inspired by helmer’s dislike for how Moore “talks down” the U.S.
Mimicking “Roger & Me,” Wilson begins with his own blue-collar Midwest background, relating how his father was laid off from work but kept his family together and sent Wilson to college.
On a semi-serious note, pic fills in various views on Moore, from Penn & Teller’s Penn Jillette, wishing Moore would “shut the fuck up,” to psychologist David T. Hardy determining that Moore suffers from a “narcissistic personality disorder.” Hardy adds that Moore endorses candidates such as Ralph Nader, Jerry Brown and Gen. Wesley T. Clark, who have no chance of winning, to reinforce his image as a bedraggled outsider rather than the rich, successful filmmaker he actually is.
The ever-sharp Jillette, fast becoming the most engaging skeptic of his generation, turns out to be one of Wilson’s best guests, recognizing the same yen for legerdemain and trickery in Moore’s cinema that he and Teller have long exposed in the performing magicians’ trade. What Wilson misses is placing Jillette in an editing room and going point-by-point through the various docus’ flaws.
By far pic’s worthiest gambit is including choice observations by Albert Maysles, the dean of American nonfiction filmmakers and one of the fathers of cinema verite, who denounces Moore as being “tyrannized by his method, which is to simplify complex ideas,” and — in a hilariously timed moment — ultimately agrees with the premise of docu’s provocative title.
Much of the developing storyline traces Wilson’s semi-comic, semi-pathetic attempts to get the elusive Moore to sit down for an interview, in effect turning Moore into his own version of GM magnate Roger Smith in “Roger & Me.”
Wilson is able to point to only a few concrete examples where Moore has fudged the truth: Employees of North County Bank explain what actually went down with that rifle-in-a-bank scene that starts “Bowling,” and armless vet Pete Damon (depicted as a forgotten soldier in “Fahrenheit”) condemns Moore for using him without his permission. Flint, Mich., is revisited, and depicted here as a much rosier place than in any of Moore’s films, and a National Rifle Assn. rep argues against Moore’s editing tricks in “Bowling.”
Significantly, fudging is something Wilson finds himself indulging in from time to time, and — much to his credit — he takes timeouts (with producer Christopher Ohlsen) to examine his own conscience. Still, toyed-with facts go by unacknowledged; worst is Wilson’s insistence that Moore’s birthplace is Davison, Mich., not Flint. In fact, Davison is a suburb of Flint, and Moore’s relatives worked in shuttered Flint factories.
Pic ends with cheery observations about Wilson’s faith in American can-do and belief that love is finally a more powerful force than hate.
Vid lensing is mediocre, with editor Greg Browning the offscreen star of the show.