Guerrilla documentary man Moore roughs up big business on his book tour
Michael Moore has made a career of being a firebrand with a sense of humor. Notorious for exposing corporate greed where ever he sees it -- and he sees it everywhere -- his 1989 documentary "Roger and Me," lambasting General Motors for closing Michigan factories to ship jobs overseas, basically got him a full-time job as a professional troublemaker with a Ph.D. in ironic humor.
He makes rabble-rousing look like so much fun that "Roger and Me" lead to "TV Nation," a short-lived mock "60 Minutes" made on the cheap, and to his book "Downsize This!," which sarcastically blasted corporate America for worshipping at the altar of the almighty stockholder at the expense of workers' jobs.
While touring to promote his book, zig-zagging across the country through working class towns, Moore couldn't resist wreaking a little havoc and took a camera crew in tow.
The result is "The Big One," a daffy, energetic and somehow still totally cynical guerrilla documentary that finds Moore ambushing avaricious corporations on every book tour stop.
Centralia, Illinois: The Payday candy bar factory is closing down. Moore assails the manager while munching on complimentary sweets.
Milwaukee: A car parts plant has been moved to Mexico. Moore presents the company's anxious press liaison with his mocking "Downsizer of the Year" award and a check for 90 cents to pay the first hour of Mexican labor.
Somewhere in the Midwest he meets secretly with employees trying to unionize the staff of a Border's book store where he's autographing his book.
Between corporate assaults Moore entertains at speaking engagements where he regales fans with stories of greed (TWA uses prisoners to take reservations so they don't have to pay operators) and draw howls of laughter describing how he duped political candidates by sending contributions from fictitious organizations like "Pedophiles for Free Trade."
Although he beats the same drum for 90 minutes, Moore's innate affability precludes any monotony. With an sardonic grin on his gumdrop face, he tells the camera that Random House doesn't know he is making a film while traveling on their dime. He plays pranks on his publicists and on one stop he takes a long break from signing books to console a woman who has just been laid off.
Shot largely on video with hand-held camcorders, "The Big One" often has the flavor of a college prank. Moore's wickedly ironic sense of humor gives him the air of a working-class Robin Hood who realizes that getting money from the rich is hard but making them look like malicious buffoons is easy.
Nowhere is this better evidenced than in the film's climactic coup, which comes at the expense of Phil Knight, CEO of Nike. Knight foolishly offers to meet with Moore and subsequently comes off as a liar and a clown. It's funny stuff, even when it's serious.
I would like to see Moore mount a campaign against greed and corruption in unions some time, just to prove that he can set aside the labor bias he proudly wears on his sleeve. But in the mean time, watching him pick on the big guy is a helluva lot of fun.