Copyright 1998
The New York Times
Chasing Michael, or, How to Corner a Corporate NemesisApril 10, 1998
Hubert B. Herring

Michael Moore doesn't look like Public Enemy No. 1. But one glimpse of that supposedly benign doughy face - with those squarish glasses and shaggy hair topped by the baseball cap that's become Moore's symbol of working-class solidarity - sends CEOs ducking behind their desks. Woe to the big kahunas who find the filmmaker waiting in their lobby, paying an unannounced visit. The self-described "schlub from Flint" who took on General Motors in his acclaimed 1989 film, "Roger & Me," is at it again, and this time he's avenging more than the workers of his hometown. His latest documentary, "The Big One," shows Moore in the role that was always meant for him: America's Corporate Avenger. He earned that title with "Roger & Me" and his work on the best television program nobody watched, "TV Nation." "The Big One" continues in this vein, dumping the horrors of downsizing into our laps while ribbing the top dogs at every turn. It is at once disturbing, depressing and painfully hilarious as we watch corporations lie and resort to childish trickery to get Moore off their backs. Interspersing tense confrontations with footage of his special appearances only adds to the absurdity; it's no coincidence that "The Big One" is a stand-up documentary formatted to resemble "Seinfeld." It's named after Moore's suggestion for a sexier, bolder name for the United States.

Moore filmed his movie while on the promotional tour for his best-selling book, "Downsize This! Random Threats From an Unarmed American," and sadly enough, he didn't have to struggle to find material for the film. In just about every town Moore visited on his 47-city tour, a factory or a plant was being closed. The vanishing jobs, we soon learn, aren't due to financial hardship: When corporations post record earnings in a year, many close their factories and head south of the border for cheaper workers so they can make even more money. At the center of Moore's film is one question that largely goes unanswered: Why? Whether it's the Centralia, Ill., Payday plant or the offices of Procter & Gamble, the filmmaker is stonewalled at every attempt to get an answer. The cameras continue to roll no matter what, making for some side-splitting moments, even when the crew faces arrest. Moore's only success is with the man you'd think would be hardest to get, Nike CEO Phil Knight, whose pleasantly pointless audience with Moore ends the film on a questionable note.

Corporations aren't Moore's only targets. "The Big One" is also seasoned with political commentary, since most of the film takes place right before the November elections.

Thus, Moore dispenses theories about Steve Forbes being an alien along with Jack Handy-esque observations such as, "Do you have the feeling we're going to have the lowest turnout ever in an election? It's depressing! Let's go to McDonald's."

Along the way, Moore jams with Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen, meets an ex-con who worked for an airline while doing time and has a clandestine meeting with Borders books employees trying to unionize.

Some moments in Moore's documentary actually show a glimmer of hope. But perhaps the most depressing thing about the film is that for all of the filmmaker's efforts, things aren't likely to change soon. At least "The Big One" encourages laughter in the face of adversity, and in the end, the truth and a smile seem to be Moore's best defense - and corporate America's greatest foe.

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