Stunted growth 

Capitalism: A Love Story

Capitalism: A Love Story (R)

Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown

If Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story teaches us one thing about the global economic crisis, it's that the stunt-doc gold standard has become obsolete.

Maybe this was inevitable. No one would deny that Moore's brand of cloddish precocity has expanded the horizons of nonfiction moviemaking. Once just a canny blue-collar fella who'd had enough of white-collar greed-mongers and their politician abettors, Moore has during the past 20 years become a rabble-rousing multimedia industry unto himself. And in that time, the industry of Moore made the actual man into a caricature.

Capitalism, like capitalism, will have its champions. As for the rest of us, well, now that we're broke, exhausted, depressed and not at all sufficiently bailed out, do we really need to be patronized, too? Moore's movie isn't quite sure, but apparently it just doesn't know what else to do.

"This is capitalism, a system of taking and giving," he narrates early on. "Mostly taking." Near the end, he says, "Capitalism is an evil, and you can not regulate evil." A lot happens in between.

Ancient Rome. A cat flushing the toilet. A foreclosure. "Condo vultures" in Florida. Wallace Shawn explaining free enterprise. (Uh, OK.) Moore as a boy. Narration. Vietnam. Unhappy Jimmy Carter. Happy Ronald Reagan. Highlights from Roger & Me, Moore's 1989 documentary feature. A for-profit juvenile detention center in cahoots with a judge. "Dead peasants" whose employers cash their life insurance policies. Priests. Derivatives, and financial professionals unable to explain them. A phony tourism promo for Cleveland. ("At least we're not Detroit!") Home video of a family being evicted. A beaming spokeswoman for Countrywide Financial, equated to the Godfather. Fiscal regulator William Black, from the '80s S&L scandal, who told us so. Franklin Delano Roosevelt saying "people who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made." Bass notes in the soundtrack. "A financial coup d'état." Attempted citizens' arrests of Wall Street CEOs. And so much Moore.

The filmmaker-star also appears back at General Motors HQ, where security has standing orders not to let him in, and viewer amusement quickly sinks into a dispiriting sense that he's just running through his same 20-year-old shtick.

Compare this with a discreet and touching scene in which Moore and his father visit the GM factory where Dad worked — or rather, the vacant lot where that factory once stood. This is the good stuff, but Moore buries it in the heap of throwaway jokes, stock-footage gimmicks and suggestive cuts.

Many of Capitalism's points seem like they'd be sharper if developed into individual pieces, as in Moore's old shows TV Nation and The Awful Truth. But development requires discipline and commitment, and it's a lot easier just to cram all the artillery scraps into one big cannon of a movie with one too-big target.

We can tell our kids about the glory days when Moore's routine seemed like a way through the morass of untrustworthy agendas and bogus institutional voices that had come to define "serious" media.

But the fact remains that his most vital (and too brief) moments now look like something you'd see on 60 Minutes: simple interviews with regular people, to whom he actually listens.

Moore may have grown accustomed to his big-screen proportions, but he should think harder about whether his medium and audience already have grown out of them.


Film Details

Capitalism: A Love Story
Rated R · 127 min. · 2009
Official Site: www.capitalismalovestory.com
Director: Michael Moore
Producer: Michael Moore
Cast: Michael Moore


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