The American political climate of the last decade has largely been defined by the tension between "Yes We Can" and "No We Can't," and as our current election cycle heats up, the Democratic debate has become one of Hillary Clinton's stay-the-party-course practicality versus Bernie Sanders' progressive idealism. Liberal media icon Michael Moore has officially endorsed Sanders, but even if he hadn't, we could've guessed where his sympathies lie on the basis of his latest film, "Where We Invade Next."
Setting a spritely tone, Moore's first feature film in six years refutes American exceptionalism by suggesting that we've exported our best ideas and misspent our plenty, throwing trillions of dollars at lost war after lost war instead of taking care of our own. The director, producer and on-camera personality frames his documentary picaresque by giving the U.S. military-industrial complex a sidelong glance, then setting off on his own to scout for the best countries to "invade." As he tools around Western Europe and, for a spell, Tunisia, Moore beams and plants an American flag wherever he finds an inspiring idea to plunder and bring home.
Italy boasts its weeks of paid vacation, five-month maternity leave, and two-hour lunches. Finland shows off its No. 1 education, Norway displays its humane prison conditions, and Portugal touts its abandonment of a war on drugs in favor of free universal health care, a policeman explaining, "Human dignity is the backbone of our society." And in a funny and jaw-dropping tour de France, Moore finds healthy, locally sourced four-course meals being served in an elementary school cafeteria, at a lesser cost than the typically unhealthy American fare. Where he finds dedicated women's rights and economic justice (prosecutions included), they look pretty attractive too.
Moore's entertaining shtick can play like a super-sized episode of one of his TV series ("TV Nation" and "The Awful Truth"), but that's not a bad thing. Yes, looking too closely at "Where to Invade Next" reveals that it's a bit haphazard and a whole lot simplistic in its anecdotal approach to appealing social programs and government practices abroad, but Moore finds a galvanizing climax by rallying around the notion that idealism trumps, if you'll pardon the word, defeatism. Maybe we can't have it all, but we can live a little longer, feel a little better, and expand human rights instead of withholding them. We can have Moore instead of settling for less.
Rated R for language, some violent images, drug use and brief graphic nudity. One hour, 59 minutes.