Friday September 22, 1995
Michael Moore is a sniper whose main talent is taking potshots at conservatives, corporations and the constipated policies of the U.S. government. In "Roger & Me," his acclaimed documentary about trying to interview General Motors CEO Roger Smith, he had a gimmick that took care of itself, allowing him to crack wise and sardonic about the pathetic and/or arrogant people his film was about.
But what worked for him in "Roger & Me" is what deep-sixes "Canadian Bacon," his first feature, John Candy's last, and a film whose one big joke--a beleaguered U.S. President promoting a cold war with Canada--is worn out before the film is half over. There are funny bits, sure--Steven Wright's Canadian Mountie is pretty hilarious, and Rip Torn's Strangelove-esque Gen. Panzer is one of the film's few consistent elements--but Moore can't make a straight comedy and not be fully engaged. Like Roger Smith, he needs to show his commitment, even though it's a no-win situation: In order to be really funny, "Canadian Bacon" would have to be more serious. And that's not what he's aiming for.
Candy plays Bud Boomer, a Niagara County, N.Y., sheriff who spends much of his day fishing for laid-off, suicidal defense-plant workers at the foot of the falls. His sidekick, Honey (Rhea Perlman), is psychotic; his buddies Roy Boy and Kabral (Kevin J. O'Connor and Bill Nunn) are thickheaded and unemployed. The plant, owned by R.J. Hacker (G.D. Spradlin), has become the victim of the pro-peace policies of a President (Alan Alda) whose approval ratings are on a slide; he needs a war in order to give people jobs and keep his own. With most of the world's major villains dead or imprisoned, the President's oily national security adviser, Stu Smiley (Kevin Pollack)--who is also in Hacker's pocket--suggests Canada. The smear campaign is under way.
Despite the big names involved--the producers are David Brown ("A Few Good Men," "The Player") and Madonna's Maverick Picture Co., the music is by Elmer Bernstein, and the cinematography is by Haskell Wexler--"Canadian Bacon" looks like it was made for about a buck-and-a-half. Moore seems to have overlooked the fact that while in a documentary you are handed a world with which to work, in a feature film you have to create one. He doesn't need special effects and a massive budget, but he does need to convince people that when an American President makes a personal appearance, there's usually a crowd.
Moore does make some caustic points about Desert Storm and this country's fixation on war and the military. But it's somewhat ironic that his main position--that Americans will swallow anything that's handed to them--is unlikely to extend to this movie.
Canadian Bacon, 1995. PG for mild language and violence. A David Brown/Maverick Picture Company production, released by Gramercy Pictures. Director Michael Moore. Producers Moore, Brown, Ron Rotholz. Executive producers Freddy DeMann, Sigurjon Sighvatsson. Screenplay by Moore. Cinematographer Haskell Wexler. Editors Wendey Stanzler, Michael Berenbaum. Costumes Kathleen Glynn. Music Elmer Bernstein and Peter Bernstein. Production design Carol Spier. Art director Tamara Deverell. Set designer Carol LaVoie. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes. Alan Alda as President of the United States. John Candy as Bud B. Boomer. Rhea Perlman as Deputy Honey. Kevin Pollack as Stu Smiley. Rip Torn as General Dick Panzer. Kevin J. O'Connor as Roy Boy. Bill Nunn as Kabral.