Where the Democratic Party has failed, documentarians Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock have succeeded in reclaiming populism for the left, making it once again fun to root against corporate fat cats and their disregard for the common good. Of course, Spurlock and Moore have also built careers on wise-guy muckraking, but their cinematic presence goes a long way toward giving left-wing politics a human face and an affable sense of humor. Moore pops up in The Corporation alongside a who's-who of prominent leftists, from sour-faced scold Noam Chomsky (who once again displays his ability to issue gloomy sociopolitical pronouncements with the ho-hum nonchalance of someone ordering Chinese food) to anti-globalization activist Naomi Klein. But without a unifying authorial voice to tie it together, the film often feels shapeless and rambling, brought together by little more than free-ranging contempt for capitalism's excesses.
The Corporation is likely to seem maddening and heavy-handed even to those who agree with its politics, while its scare-mongering and reductive worldview make it all too easy to dismiss as hysterical anti-business propaganda. Its nearly two-and-a-half-hour running time similarly makes it inevitable that it'll preach almost exclusively to the converted.
The film uses a peculiar quirk of the 14th Amendment as its starting point: That amendment not only freed the slaves, but also gave corporations the legal rights of a free person. The Corporation, in turn, asks what kind of a person the average corporation might be, then unsurprisingly argues that he's a deranged sociopath, a greedy monster who by definition puts profits above people and causes boundless collateral damage in his quest for filthy lucre.
It's an intriguing premise, but it would be a lot more effective had the film kept a tighter focus on its ideas, instead of delving into everything from IBM's relationship with the Nazis to Kathie Lee Gifford's sweatshop woes to Fox News reporters fired for refusing to fudge the truth about a fellow corporate giant. The Corporation is often funny and compelling, but its monomaniacal contempt for corporations and its assaultive tone make it feel like a botched opportunity. Along the way, the film's desire to say something incisive about corporate malfeasance gets compromised by its apparent desire to say everything worth saying about corporate malfeasance.