‘Where to Invade Next’ is Lesser Michael Moore

CHICAGO – Michael Moore’s career as a poker-of-the-hornets-nest and documentary provocateur could be on the wane, simply because as an individual he might not be as angry as he use to be. Where to Invade Next is notable because it projects a “why not?” optimism, but doesn’t back that sunniness with filmmaking that is compelling. As a recitation of great things other countries have for their tax dollars – as compared to the USA – it’s fine, but as a documentary or “call to arms,” it’s just not that interesting.

The title refers to Moore’s rather leaden premise that he is a “soldier” with a different kind of goal for invading other countries – getting the best ideas and co-opting them for the United States. Utopian ideas like free college, nutritionally gourmet lunch programs, longer vacation times and better judicial techniques are all well and good, but unless the Ebenezer Scrooge of the Capitalist System that is the United States economy gets visited by several ghosts, it just isn’t going to happen (and Michael Moore would be the least likely ghost for those guys). Informationally, this might be good for some people, but it just doesn’t come up to the standards of other Michael Moore protests.

After offering a montage of the United States in turmoil, Moore is shown going to the Pentagon to talk about his version of invasion (stock shots of the generals at a conference table are amusing), and proceeds to begin his travelogue of going to various countries, highlighting their utopian ideals and planting the U.S. flag as a successful invader to bring the idea back home.

Image: IMG Films

Image: IMG Films

Moore goes to France, where gourmet meals are served daily to students, and fatty treats like a Coca-Cola are foreign to the kids. In Finland, he finds an educational system that has been reworked to take the emphasis off homework and drone work, to formulate a complete student. In Slovenia they have free college, in Italy they have eight weeks vacation, and in Germany they focus on peace in their history classes, to avoid repeating their past. The contrast with the U.S. is stark, and is designed to say, “what If?”

There was something flat about the vignettes, because maybe it would either be unlikely here, or that the vision seemed redundant. The social programs are amazing, but the capitalist grip in the United States spends tons of money making sure that the U.S. doesn’t get such distribution programs – it’s at the very core of the current Presidential campaign (so Moore does get some points for prescience). Also not noted, these programs are dynamically woven into the culture of the particular European countries, they’ve become entrenched as a given because of years of evolutionary adjustment.

The most interesting and sensible food-for-thought involves visits to Norway and Portugal. In Norway, they cap every crime at a 21-year maximum sentence, and use the incarceration for rehabilitation. They continue to have the lowest murder rate in the world. In Portugal, they have taken the stigma off drug use – all are legal. Not only does it free law enforcement from stemming a tide that can never be stemmed, but drug use has actually gone down, because the incentive for it being “bad” or “outsider” is gone.

The dullest stuff involves those Italian long vacation times. Moore does a lot of “mock” interviews in this film – expressing shock at the generosity and impossibilities, in comparing them to the U.S. – but the one with CEO of a motorbike company is particularly silly. “How do you get anything done?” “Aren’t you unprofitable?” Etc. The jolly owner, in the spirit of Fezziwig in “A Christmas Carol,” just keeps saying its the way of the universe there. Moore does this in a few other countries with their programs, and these interviews are irritating rather than informative.

Image: IMG Films

Image: IMG Films

Of course this film marks a departure for Moore. He is almost giddy in the optimism that we could make these things work in the USA, despite our toxic political and propaganda environment. And as a delivery system for change, I suppose the thinking is “if Michael Moore, the cock-eyed windmill jouster, can be optimistic, so can I!” Meanwhile, in reality, people barely inform themselves beyond their longer and longer work weeks. This is his dullest documentary to date, and given his age and wealth, he may not have anything left to say.

Ironically, one of the points in the film is how women seem to know how to heal a system better than men (as shown through a banking example in Iceland). This would seem like a plug for Hillary Clinton, although everything in the film  – shot way before the current presidential race – tilts expressively towards Bernie.