Michael Moore takes on America's plutocrats and warmongers in his Palme D'Or-winning documentary

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Score 4

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The Madness Of King George

DIRECTED BY Michael Moore

STARRING Michael Moore, George W Bush, Osama Bin Laden

Opens July 2, Cert TBC, 121 mins

In principle, Michael Moore seems like a good thing. He’s grass-roots politics’ own 300lb gorilla film-maker, an instantly recognisable gadfly guru in a baseball hat. After his Oscar-winning Bowling For Columbine, a string of best-selling books and now a Cannes victory to his name, Moore easily generates more press, positive and negative alike, than John Kerry, who’s supposed to be the left’s last hope for ousting George W Bush from office.

With his Palme d’Or-winning Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore adds armour to his knight errant image, going into combat with little more than stacks of statistics, rare news footage smuggled to him by reporter contacts, and a sarky sense of humour, lancing the Bush administration’s murderous mendacity while also laying bare the sheer pointless waste of human life that the war in Iraq has wrought. If seen by enough floating voters in America, it could potentially be more damaging to Bush’s re-election prospects than a hundred landfills-worth of Democratic pamphlets on foreign policy ever could.

Though Moore’s principles may be sound, you can’t help wishing his practice were sounder. Fahrenheit 9/11, like Bowling For Columbine, is an almost-great film?passionate and polemical, but also slapdash and silly. Like an out-of-shape boxer, Moore jabs well but gets lazy with his footwork, and throws too many punches that don’t quite connect, especially in the later rounds. He gets Dubya and co on the ropes, but then never delivers a knockout.

The film is worth seeing for its first finely focused hour alone. Wisely keeping himself out of the picture and the jokes to a minimum, Moore’s distinctive voiceover talks us through the now familiar story of how Bush snatched victory from Al Gore in the 2000 presidential elections and then proceeded to spend most of his first year in office playing golf. The sheer gormlessness of Bush is brought home in a chilling yet blackly comic sequence showing Dubya, frozen rabbit-like in the headlights, spending 10 minutes reading the children’s book My Pet Goat at a primary school moments after he’s been told a plane has flown into the World Trade Center. Stanley Kubrick and Terry Southern at their Strangelove-era peak couldn’t have made this sort of thing up. It’s the little details that deliver the cruellest body blows. Utilising skills honed from years of TV sketch comedy, Moore shows off Bush and his cronies at their worst in quickfire cutaways, from Dubya stumbling inarticulately with issues beyond his IQ to Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz sucking on his comb to wet down his hair for the cameras, and Attorney General John Ashcroft bellowing a loony patriotic ditty of his own composition in a cracked baritone. British left-leaning viewers will be disappointed Tony Blair doesn’t get a more thorough hiding, although he does appear in Moore’s Photoshopped pastiche of the opening credits of Bonanza, riding with Dubya’s cowpoke, crackpot coalition.

But Moore’s clowning over the long haul dilutes the effectiveness of his message. Suffering from a cinematic form of Attention Deficiency Disorder, Moore can’t construct an argument that takes longer than 15 minutes to explicate. He flits abruptly from delineating the links between the House of Bush and the House of Saud, to a fairly pointless sequence about a depressive state trooper guarding the Oregon coastline, landing awkwardly with plucky Michigan mother Lila Lipscomb, who’s lost her son in Iraq. Just when he’s about to wring real pathos from his material?with Lipscomb reading an angry letter from her son denouncing the current administration, written right before he was killed on manoeuvres?Moore fumbles the film’s final section with a stunt trying to get politicians in Washington to sign their own children up for the Army.

Maybe none of the film’s ‘revelations’ are that fresh, but, like a radical Ronald McDonald, Moore has packaged and processed them for the masses, with a side order of history and a super-sized ice-cold cup of polemic. Fast food for thought, and if it helps to change hearts, minds and voting habits this election year then we can live with a bit of flabby thinking.