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Columbine Harvester

Michael Moore threshes about in search of fear itself.

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If you're a fan of that baseball-cap-wearin', Nader-votin', muckrakin', best-sellin', corporation-confrontin' son of a gun Michael Moore, all you need to know about his latest film, Bowling for Columbine, is that it's more of the same: easy humor, political potshots, attempts (some successful, most not) at interviewing and confronting corporate crooks and the odd emotional sucker punch that'll leave you in horror until he comes back with a laugh a few minutes later. Tonal shifts are what Moore (Roger and Me) does best.

Given that Nader got less than 5 percent of the national vote, however, and that Moore's previous films and TV shows have not been blockbusters, he can't have a successful movie if only folks like him go. So how does it shape up if you're not among the acolytes?

Hard to say, but one suspects it's hit and miss. Moore looks at the United States' gun culture, an exploration provoked by the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999. (Prior to their killing spree, Columbine shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris went bowling, hence the title.) As he first shows up on camera, Moore is opening a bank account at a financial institution that gives its patrons free guns. Later, he buys bullets in a barbershop. Soon he's hanging out with the Michigan militia, the group to which Timothy McVeigh infamously belonged.

No one in the film ever mentions or advocates gun control. Moore does try to get K-mart to stop selling ammunition, which may strike some as the same thing, but he never proposes banning guns. The film will probably surprise many liberals with its look at guns in other countries -- turns out Canadians love their firearms as much as we do, even though they don't even lock their front doors.

Moore doesn't always stay on point, and occasionally Bowling goes for the cheap shot. Honestly, do we need to see footage from Columbine security cameras again? Moore is funny, but he tends to overcompensate -- a montage of CIA atrocities set to Louis Armstrong music is used to negate an average guy's pro-America outlook; Moore might as well be squashing a fly with a mallet.

Which brings up another question: Can't Moore find a conservative who's a good debater? His confrontations with heavy hitters seem to end with the big-shot walking away or slamming the door when Moore asks a question he or she doesn't like. That tendency makes Columbine's exchanges seem one-sided and keeps the film from being as informative as it could be. As Web sites such as Spinsanity.org have documented, Moore can get sloppy with his fact-checking. If an ideologue from the opposite end of the spectrum -- Bill O'Reilly, say -- were to debate Moore on camera, the director might be forced to strengthen his arguments.

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