Michael Moore, The Bane Of Business, Is Back

The maker of Roger & Me takes on corporate greed

With its sleek marble lobby, modern art, and security guards, the tower on Manhattan's Upper West Side looks like the kind of building from which Roger & Me filmmaker Michael Moore usually gets ejected. But the proletarian provocateur from Flint, Mich., has made so much money from movies, television, and a book that he's no longer on the outside looking in. He lives here. That newfound wealth lends an ironic subtext to his latest movie, a comic documentary about corporate avarice called The Big One to be released on Apr. 3.

Not that Moore has gone soft. Quite to the contrary, he has gone from mocking former General Motors Corp. Chairman Roger B. Smith in Roger & Me to lambasting all of Corporate America. Still dressing and talking like a schlubby auto worker with attitude, Moore hopscotches the country slamming Pillsbury for accepting "corporate welfare," Borders bookstore chain for fighting unionization, Johnson Controls for moving jobs from Milwaukee to Mexico, Trans World Airlines for using convicts as telephone reservation agents, and Procter & Gamble for cutting thousands of jobs while racking up record profits. Moore goes one-on-one with Nike Inc.'s Philip H. Knight about using teenage girls in Indonesia to make sneakers. "One evil empire down. One to go," he says near the end of the film.

NOBLE SARDINE? But it's not capitalism that Moore seeks to extinguish, just the unbridled greed that often accompanies it. In fact, Moore even embraces the perks of the corporate class. In one scene, he unapologetically uses a first-class plane ticket, paid for by his tres corporate publisher Random House Inc. during the speaking tour for his 1996 book, Downsize This! Random Threats from an Unarmed American. "There's nothing noble about sitting like a sardine back in row 37 in the middle seat," Moore says now. In another scene, he discovers that Random House's promotional campaign has catapulted his book to The New York Times best-seller list and exults, only half ironically: "Now, I don't think corporations are such a bad idea!"

But Moore insists that he can fly first class without forgetting what it's like to ride on Greyhound. He claims that his old friends from Flint never tease him about his windfall: "They're all happy that one of us got out. One of the basic tenets of the working class is you want to get out of the working class," Moore says.

A TIGHT LEASH. Remembering his roots, Moore has given $500,000 in grants to charities in Flint and to other independent filmmakers. Where Moore parts company with many of his fellow first-class passengers is in his conviction that capitalism needs a tight moral leash.

One particularly tense scene in the mostly lighthearted movie comes when Moore confronts executives from Johnson Controls Inc., which is shifting manufacturing to Mexico. Moore tries to present Johnson's chief executive officer with an oversize check for 80 cents--the amount, he says, that the company will pay for an hour of Mexican labor. Tight-lipped company executives give Moore the bum's rush as he hands over one of his "Downsizer of the Year" awards.

The Big One borrows gags from Downsize This! and his two-season TV series, TV Nation. In a typical riff, Moore suggests renaming the U.S. "The Big One," changing the national symbol from the bald eagle to the bald man, and switching the national anthem to that sports-arena classic, We Will Rock You. Another time, he postulates that the unblinking Steve Forbes comes from another planet.

Moore is more of populist wise guy than a leftist theoretician. In fact, he avoids giving specific policy prescriptions. "I'm a person with a high school education. I'm not going to come up with the ultimate solution to these problems," he says.

Moore says that he made The Big One to comfort those who have been left behind by the New Economy--"so for 1 1/2 hours, they'll feel some cathartic sense of, `Here's one for our side."' Evil empire rhetoric notwithstanding, Moore turns out to be about as Marxist as Groucho.

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