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Canadian Bacon (1995)

by on 2010/07/06

Canadian Bacon stands as a rarity in Michael Moore’s body of work, being fictional, and not even a mockumentary.  My reaction to it is either mixed or moderate . . . or maybe both.  It neither inspires nor offends me, but offers frequent moments of humour, grounded somewhat by the occasional clunker and odd pacing.

Or could it be that my feelings are merely moderate on average?  I swing between the relative highs of appreciating his crusades, and the opposing lows of resenting his tactics.  At least, with Canadian Bacon, there is no “truth” for the telling to undermine.

Here Moore presents the story of Bud Boomer (John Candy), a lowbrow law enforcement officer working the New York side of the Niagara Falls region.  When the American president (Alan Alda) and his cronies (Kevin Pollack and Rip Torn) initiate a new Cold War with Canada in an attempt to boost low approval ratings, Boomer and his own cronies (Bill Nunn, Kevin O’Connor, and a sadly-misused Rhea Perlman) take it upon themselves to launch a grassroots ground attack.  Mix one serving of the South Park movie with a light sprinkling of The Canadian Conspiracy, and you’ll have a fairly good idea of what to expect.

I had a couple of different reactions early on.  I remarked on how dated it felt . . . not exactly quaint, but made at a strange point in history, between the fall of the Berlin Wall and September 11th, when America could be typecast as an old warrior who doesn’t know what to do when the fight is over.  I also wondered at the audience for the film.  While it seems to employ its satire in celebration of so-called “Canadian values”, it is also not an entirely complimentary portrayal.  It risks losing the support of any targets who can’t laugh at themselves; it’s a variation on the problem faced by a similar film, Bob Roberts, which is just as unlikely even to be viewed by anyone but existing supporters.

In any case, assuming viewers are already members of the choir Moore is preaching to, there is another — though subtler and perhaps less damaging — issue with Canadian Bacon.  It took me a while to notice but I eventually realized the pacing felt . . . off somehow.  As in B-movies and their parodies, edits were loose, even flabby.  Takes went on too long, reducing the impact of certain comic beats.  This particular style of editing can be valuable in a documentarian’s repertoire, when a lingering moment reveals new insight, as interview subjects believe their take has ended, and lower their guard.  Unfortunately, what works in most of Moore’s films does not serve this comedy as well.

It works more often than not, however, and I enjoyed my time in Moore’s alternate reality.  I suppose I’m a rare fan; whereas his efforts seem to polarize most audiences, I feel fairly moderate.  I take from his films what I will, and dismiss what I won’t.

Critic of convenience?  Possibly.

Canadian?  Probably.

Definitely probably.

* * *

Rated PG for coarse language

95 minutes

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