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One-side wonder Moore's style isn't journalism, but it's compelling

Bless Michael Moore, and long may he wave and prosper.

You can, if you want, bluster and belittle and complain that, as always, he's not being fair or balanced. But then, a journalist or documentarian, he's not, and never will be. He's a wiseguy and a provocateur, a jowly troublemaker in a baseball cap -- and we have none better. You can't just rake muck anymore -- you've got to wade in and throw some around and, in our era, nobody does it better. Or with more trenchant humor.

I knew from the minute I saw "Roger and Me" in a decrepit, ill-ventilated screening room at the Toronto International Film Festival that he was an artist of outrage. Beneath the hilarity and cheek, there was furious anger and disappointment, and it probably helped to come from a Rust Belt city to see it.

No one's going to have the slightest bit of trouble discerning the outrage at the core of "Sicko," his shotgun blast at the American health care system and where the profit motive has taken us -- which is behind the rest of the "civilized" world. In fact, if you can watch it without yourself swallowing a little outrage, you're made of sterner stuff than I'll ever be.

When Moore drags a 9/1 1 volunteer rescuer to Cuba for her respiratory problems and she discovers that an inhaler she pays $120 for is available there for a nickel, you're going to want a full-scale congressional investigation before you've even hit the parking lot. "Objectivity" might point out that a nickel in Cuba isn't the same as a nickel here. Nor would "fairness" stint in mentioning how drug companies need profits to fund research. But to heck with all that when you see it right in front of you. You just want someone to explain -- hopefully at hugely painful length.

The oddest thing of all about "Sicko" is how nonpartisan so much of it seems -- and not just in its widely reported section about former universal health care advocate Hillary Clinton now receiving campaign money from those she once opposed.

Yes, there are stunning political moments -- a Nixon tape, for instance, in which you can hear the Dark Lord of San Dementia in the Oval Office expressing approbation of the plan to boost profits by denying benefits. But, overall, it's to his credit that he has formulated his argument in such an outrageous way that it's well beyond such minor differences as Republican or Democrat.

Because this is a Michael Moore film, much of this is hilarious, if very dark: the uninsured fellow, for instance, who loses two fingers and is given a choice of which to preserve, the $60,000 middle finger or much cheaper ring finger.

Also, again because this is a Michael Moore movie, you get a lot of his patented techniques, most notably his way of turning a small hot button into a scalding front burner, leading to a full boil. (When you take 9/1 1 volunteers to Cuba because that country's health care system is more evidently humane, you're sticking a thumb in everyone's face. You aren't just flinging muck around; you're asking every viewer this basic question: "Who ARE we" in this society?)

If you want to be fair, you'll find yourself saying "yes but" every five minutes in "Sicko."

But Moore, bless his blubbering boorish self, has asked his questions in a way that both entertains and jolly well demands an answer. His subject this time is truly everyone's.

You knew it long ago in moviehouses when, in James L. Brooks' utterly nonpolitical comedy "As Good as It Gets," the line that invariably brings down the house with applause is the heroine -- saying utterly in passing -- "God, I hate my HMO." Almost invariably, the applause drowned out the next three lines.

It's a "sicko" system, says Michael Moore. After seeing his film, good luck to anyone raising a "yes, but" index finger and defending the status quo.

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

***

SICKO

4 stars (Out of 4)

STARRING: Michael Moore

DIRECTOR: Michael Moore

RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes

RATING: PG-13 for language.

THE LOWDOWN: Acclaimed blast at the American health care system and what the profit motive has done to it.

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