Judge Clark Douglas is such a slacker, he probably won't even finish this sente...
They slept till noon…but still had time to vote.
In mid-2004, the Presidential campaign between incumbent George W. Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry was raging on, and director Michael Moore was basking in the box office glory of a little documentary called Fahrenheit 9/11. Kerry initially had a significant lead over Bush in the polls, but the Swift Boat campaign ads and other elements started to turn the tide in Bush's favor. In an effort to help Kerry's struggling campaign (largely motivated by an intense dislike of President Bush rather than an admiration for Kerry), Moore hit the campaign trail, holding rallies in 60 cities over the course of a few months. The goal was to get more liberal-leaning young people to vote, so Moore made slackers everywhere an offer they couldn't refuse: register to vote and you get a free pack of clean underwear and a supply of Ramen noodles. Slacker Uprising (originally entitled Captain Mike Across America), written and directed by Moore, chronicles the controversial director's controversial exploits.
As you may well know, Slacker Uprising is something of a unique part of Michael Moore's career. First of all, the release of the film was handled in a rather unusual manner. Unlike other Moore documentaries, this one was not released in theatres. It was released on the Internet. Even more surprisingly, this feature-length film was offered absolutely free of charge to Moore's fans (and the cranky folks in this film who say they wouldn't pay a nickel to see his films). Second, most of Moore's films tend to focus on a specific issue, whether it be health care (Sicko), President Bush (Fahrenheit 9/11), or gun violence (Bowling for Columbine). This one more or less focuses on Moore himself (though some might argue that all of Moore's films do this to some degree).
I suppose that these days, one has to preface any review of a Michael Moore film with one's own feelings on Mr. Moore's brand of filmmaking. In general, I tend to be in favor of it. Though his self-promotional behavior can admittedly be a little obnoxious at times, I find his passionate (and compassionate) approach to promoting various political issues moving and exceptionally entertaining. He's an immensely effective rabble-rouser, and the fact that he is offering this film free of charge rather than attempting to make a quick buck with a traditional straight-to-DVD release says a lot about him as a human being. That being said, this particular film is rather hit-and-miss. I suspect it will be regarded as a curious side item, when viewed within the scope of Michael Moore's career.
This documentary is partially a concert film, featuring appearances from notable musicians and celebrities such as Eddie Vedder, R.E.M., Roseanne Barr (who makes a horribly shrill appearance), Joan Baez, Tom Morello, Steve Earle, and Viggo Mortenson. On that level, I don't find it exceptionally successful. We hear full-length song performances, but the audio quality is quite suspect, which really damages the entertainment value. In addition, some of performers offer original politically-themed songs ("Al Gore Lives on My Street"), which are noble enough, but aren't really very good from an artistic standpoint. In addition, if you're averse to Moore's undying love of himself, you may find Slacker Uprising exceptionally hard to watch. Moore opens with the humble statement that this "is the story of a filmmaker's failed attempt at making a difference." Everything else is anything but humble. Moore could have removed the numerous scenes of notable celebrities talking about how much they love Michael Moore (they don't add much to the film), but he lingers on them with regularity. Those praising Moore are given prominent treatment, while those criticizing him are only shown when they are stuttering, stammering, or making fools of themselves. There is a scene in which a young man offers to give Moore his deceased uncle's bronze star as a statement of solidarity. That's kind of touching. Not quite as touching when Moore accepts it, rather than suggesting that the young man should keep the medal.
Nonetheless, any Moore film is bound to have a notable measure of fun, and this one is no exception. I really enjoyed the midsection of the film, featuring Moore's many confrontations with Bush supporters. These get increasingly out-of-control and ridiculous, as some local businessmen attempt to bribe various colleges and convention centers with large sums of money to keep Moore from speaking. They are largely unsuccessful. In one arena, a group of Catholic Republicans start doing Hail Mary and The Lord's Prayer out loud, as a form of protest. Moore listens for a minute, and then starts quoting everything along with them for a while. After a couple of minutes, he shouts, "Oh, come on, are you going to do the whole rosary? What, is this one of those things where the devil is in the house? Quick, we'd better drive out the devil, Michael Moore is here!" This stuff has some real life, and rescues Slacker Uprising from its well-intentioned banality.
It's a little difficult to discuss the transfer when it comes to a film like this, as the vast majority of it is taken from source material that is wildly varied in terms of quality. Some stuff looks horrible, other stuff is quite sharp, some was shot on film, other stuff was shot on digital, etc. The same thing applies to the audio, but I will say that everything more or less sounds fine aside from the musical sequences. In terms of supplements, this DVD release offers an eclectic batch of goodies. Some of these may be regarded as deleted scenes (more footage of Moore offering noodles to slackers), some of it classifies as relevant side items (Michael Moore reading "My Pet Goat"), and then some should just be called "random goodies" (Moore crank-calling Pfizer). Added up, this batch of supplements is about 40 minutes long, and some of it is even more enjoyable and effective than the majority of the content in the feature.
While I'm a good deal less enthusiastic about this film than I have been about the rest of Moore's work, I still found it a reasonably engaging viewing experience. I think a good twenty minutes or so could have been shaved off the running time to create a tighter and more effective film, but it's worth a look. The film itself can be viewed for free online, and various online retailers are selling the DVD for less than five bucks, so you certainly can't beat the price. Not guilty, but I hope Michael Moore is back on his A-game next time.
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