Guns and gutter balls
The good news about Bowling for Columbine is that the documentary takes on some urgent contemporary issues that are commonly glossed over in most visible mass media. The bad news is that it is a Michael Moore production. Which means that, while it asks some tough and important questions, it is also partly an exercise in self-promotion with a penchant for cheap-shot provocations.
Moore’s film makes some sardonic jabs at the National Rifle Association and the country’s appetite for guns and lethal violence and takes a few wild swings at the military-industrial complex and the massacres generated by U.S. foreign policy in the second half of the 20th century. But Moore’s trademark portrayals of his own personal interventions in the film’s subject matter eventually take the foreground, and the result is political comedy of a pettily sarcastic sort.
Small portions of the film, like the segment on a work-to-welfare mother whose 6-year-old son kills a classmate with a handgun, thrive as trenchant mini-documentaries. But stinging film journalism of that sort gets stiff and rather poisonous competition from sequences like the one here in which Moore attempts to embarrass NRA poster boy Charlton Heston in a filmed interview.
In another of the film’s better moments—an interview with shock rocker Marilyn Manson—the issue of mass-media sensationalism takes a turn from which Moore seems to have learned too little. Moore’s penchant for an alternative version of "reality programming" ends up looking too much like yet another showbiz routine trapped in the machinery of mass entertainment.