The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Where to Invade Next

Michael Moore has made a career out of pushing a heavy liberal agenda and enraging conservatives. There's something surprising, then, about the fact that his newest film, Where to Invade Next, is by far his least inflammatory. Moore isn't necessarily trying to win over his right-wing foes, but he's definitely taking a softer approach. Rather than playing the role of firebrand provocateur, he positions himself this time as a curious host, asking whether things that have worked in other countries might help America solve its most pressing problems. It's an approach that works – for a while.

Moore's concept this time is that America has issues neither political side has been able to resolve, so he travels the globe to see how other countries have dealt with the same things. He begins with a trip to Italy, where workers get two-hour lunch breaks, eight weeks of paid vacation per year, and five months of paid maternity leave. Productivity in their factories is high, as is morale. From there, he goes to France, where typical school lunches are akin to what you'd find in a fancy restaurant here. In fact, lunch is essentially a nutrition class, designed to teach children how to eat healthy. Also examined in Where to Invade Next are countries like Norway, where humane treatment of prisoners and caps on sentences for violent crimes have produced lower murder rates, and Slovenia, where a college education is free.

In looking at all these things, Moore asks a basic question: “Why can't we do this in America?” Instead of provoking conservatives or railing against their policies, he simply suggests that things that have worked in other places might work here, as well. The approach is undeniably provocative. There is a certain bottom-line logic to much of what the filmmaker suggests. Our kids would be healthier and less obese if we skilled them in eating right. And workers would be less inclined to “burn out” if they had regularly scheduled time to relax with their families.

For about 75 minutes of its two-hour running time, Where to Invade Next seems positively revelatory. If it doesn't have outright answers, it at least feels as though it's on the right track to finding them. Moore argues that what we're doing hasn't worked, so it's time to introduce new ideas into the mix. He isn't wrong about that. As always, he makes his points with a mixture of humor and probing insight that entertains while also stimulating thought.

But as the film goes on, Moore takes on bigger and bigger problems, and that's where he starts to stumble, because the bigger the issue, the less simple the solution. In the most egregious example, Where to Invade Next spends a lot of time on the uber-exciting topic of Icelandic banking scandals. Aside from being less inherently identifiable as many of the previous topics, Moore loses his ability to be convincing in his arguments. He focuses on the fact that the one bank in Iceland that didn't lose money when their economy collapsed was the one run by women. From there, he goes on to suggest that America's savings and loans abuses could be avoided by turning all our financial institutions over to women. More women in positions of power is a good thing, but certainly the scandals that have rocked Wall Street are the result of far more complex factors than just gender. His take on racism in the prison system is similarly more idealistic than fully developed.

Where to Invade Next starts to feel repetitive and over-simplified after a while. The light bulb-over-the-head feeling that makes the early sections so enthralling gradually dissipates. Moore desperately wants to provide answers to the biggest problems our country faces, but we know that he is, to a degree, grasping at straws. The film would have been better had it been shorter, leaving out the subjects for which there are no cut-and-dried solutions and instead focusing on the ones where change could realistically be implemented in a semi-expedient fashion.

Michael Moore has made important films designed to force audiences to debate and discuss vital issues that impact life in our society, whether it's our broken health care system in Sicko or an American president's abuse of power in Fahrenheit 9/11. Love him or hate him, we fundamentally need him. With Where to Invade Next, Moore continues to raise those issues in a manner that is both relevant and occasionally funny. But the results are mixed this time. The director makes some undeniably compelling points on certain topics, yet fumbles on others.

There are sections of Where to Invade Next that are important to see. As a whole, though, it doesn't represent Michael Moore at the top of his game.

( 1/2 out of four)

Where to Invade Next is rated R for language, some violent images, drug use and brief graphic nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 59 minutes.

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