''Sicko'': Lisa Schwarzbaum's thoughts
The stunts are there in Sicko the showboating; the on-screen participation of the savvy, internationally famous New York-based filmmaker in the guise of a shambling American rube who gawks at foreign culture. But there's a certain robust clarity of political activism in this latest salvo from media provocateur Michael Moore that marks a new maturity. ''Modesty'' isn't a word generally associated with the big guy in the gimme cap, but something in his bouncy, bulging, commercially entertaining documentary about the American health care industry suggests that the filmmaker has sought relief for a certain previously grievous swelling of the ego. It just may turn out that Sicko is Moore's most useful specimen of gadfly art yet.
Still, we're talking about a docu that utilizes building blocks of snark from the title on up. Sicko scores points presenting real people who have suffered terribly from the treatment limitations imposed either by their health insurers or no insurance at all, and builds a good, clear, outraged history of the American HMO system we know today. But Moore, playing ''Moore,'' can't resist insisting how much better everyone's got it everywhere else in Canada, of course (his favorite utopia north of the border), but also in France (a convenient pit stop for a movie premiering at Cannes, and a chance for the filmmaker to taunt, ''Why do Americans hate the French?''), and even in Guantanamo prison and Havana.
Intent on giving viewers a rash, the filmmaker piles on Gitmo, the emerging health crises of 9/11 responders, and the saintly treatment offered to a few of those ailing workers by gracious doctors in ''satanic'' Cuba. I guess I should be used to that reaction as a side effect of generalized Moore-ism. But I'd hate for any itch to divert anyone from the importance of the movie's serious diagnosis of a national health care system in critical condition.