Michael Moore’s wry first-person documentary “Where to Invade Next,” his first since 2009 and “Capitalism: A Love Story,” isn’t what it sounds like.
The title suggests a cry, or a typically ironic Moore screed, against the history and dangers of recent U.S. foreign policy. But Moore’s latest goes a different direction. It follows one goofball firebrand’s “invasion” of a few choice countries abroad where the spending priorities and social safety nets are more to his liking, and offer plenty to envy.
Moore states his mission up front. “I will invade countries populated by Caucasians with names I can mostly pronounce,” he says, narrating the action, “take the things we need from them, and bring it all back home to the United States of America.” Thus begins his breezy if somewhat attenuated suggestion list.
The intense and white-hot snark of “Fahrenheit 9/11” has mellowed here, as has the bitter outlook of much of his work. “Where to Invade Next” may fall prey to some of the usual generalities and factual shortcuts, but there’s a more optimistic and embracing spirit behind it.
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First stop: Italy, where Moore cherry-picks examples of factories that treat their employees like queens and kings, and thanks to both the company and the country, workers enjoy up to two months’ paid vacation. In rural Normandy, Moore pals around with schoolchildren being treated to a typical and (apparently) typically amazing hot lunch. As Moore shares photos of American school lunches with his French hosts, their faces say it all.
From there “Where to Invade Next” skips to Finland for a primer on their lavish and egalitarian public education strategies; to the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, where university education is free and a few Americans have discovered its advantages; and then to Germany, Portugal and Iceland. “My mission is to pick the flowers, not the weeds,” Moore says.
The film is entertaining and disingenuous, which doesn’t make it wrong. “Where to Invade Next” proposes serious consideration of so many progressive ideals, it can barely sort them out. This is an old drawback of Moore’s work: Sometimes he tries to get by on jokes, rather than cogent argument.
Also, Moore has always believed in the power of the gut punch, the ironic shock cut in the editing room; here, when we hear George W. Bush utter the word “freedom” in an old speech about American values, it comes at the precise instant we see news footage of a white police officer jamming the head of a young black man into the pavement.
Even so, “Where to Invade Next” believes in America as a viable work in progress.
‘Where to Invade Next’
☆ ☆ ☆
Cast: Michael Moore, Krista Kiuru, Tim Walker.
Director: Michael Moore.
Running time: 119 minutes.
Rating: R (language, some violent images, drug use and brief graphic nudity).