It’s an effort to find concise declarative sentences in Guy Lodge‘s Venice Film Festival review of Michael Moore‘s Capitalism: A Love Story. But he’s written a fairly tough pan…in part. Moore, Lodge feels, is a shameless sentimental bludgeoner in the tradition of Frank Capra. Except Lodge also admits that it’s hard not to respond to this skewering of the U.S. banking industry in the ways that Moore wants you to respond, and that Capitalism is, after a fashion, brutally persuasive. So Lodge is sort of half-and-halfing.

Some sample graphs and thoughts:

(a) “Michael Moore is this generation’s Frank Capra. And by that token, Capitalism: A Love Story — an artlessly effective slice of rah-rah rhetoric more sincerely idealistic than anything the director has yet put his name to — represents Moore’s It’s a Wonderful Life.” (Wells interjection: Okay, but isn’t It’s A Wonderful Life generally regarded as an earnest and emoitonally effective film by today’s standards? And very well liked?)

(b) “As with the prototypical Capra film, Capitalism places its faith in the American everyman, while blanketing evil as a vaguer collective [and] defending the rights and ability of the former with unashamed sentimentality and sledgehammer subtlety.

(c) “The film is a veritable compendium of all Moore’s most manipulative muckraking tactics, whether it’s the wilfully decontextualized use of vintage news clips or the breathtaking exploitation of having an ordinary Joe tearfully read a love letter to his deceased wife on camera. No button is left unpushed in the service of an argument that already doesn’t have to work very hard to win over the liberal public, but Moore isn’t one to leave much to chance.”

(d) The question, then, isn’t just whether Capitalism: A Love Story (a wholly meaningless title, incidentally) is a good film, but whether it really needs – or even wants – to be one. As cinema, it certainly isn’t as formally inventive or powerful as Roger & Me or Bowling for Columbine, or even as viscerally seething as Fahrenheit 9/11, but it doesn’t speak any less loudly or chidingly than those films.

(e) “Visually and rhythmically, it’s probably his dullest film to date, with a second half that devolves frequently into a mere parade of talking heads. Nonetheless, the film bludgeons you so persistently and gracelessly with its rapid patter of information that it’s hard not to feel what it wants you to feel.”

(f) “Even as one questions the taste of his interviewing approach towards victims of corporate life-insurance scams, one’s anger is directed inexorably towards the corporations in question; even as one groans inwardly at Moore’s old-hat Bush-baiting, the reckless stupidity of the former president’s words ring louder and clearer than one’s inner critic.”

(g) “Moore remains resolutely (and perhaps still necessarily) the people’s filmmaker: sneer if you like, but sometimes the obvious needs to be stated, and in an obvious fashion at that.”

Update: Variety’s Leslie Felperin has filed her Capitalism review and seems to agree with Lodge’s points about Moore’s sentimenal heavy-handedness, but nonetheless says the following: “By returning to his roots, professional gadfly Michael Moore turns in one of his best films with Capitalism: A Love Story..

“Pic’s target is less capitalism qua capitalism than the banking industry, which Moore skewers ruthlessly, explaining last year’s economic meltdown in terms a sixth-grader could understand. That said, there’s still plenty here to annoy right-wingers, as well as those who, however much they agree with Moore’s politics, just can’t stomach his oversimplification, on-the-nose sentimentality and goofball japery.

“Whether Capitalism matches Fahrenheit 9/11 or underperforms like Sicko will depend on how much workers of the world are ready to unite behind the message.”