The White House preemptively gave the movie two thumbs down: "Outrageously false," said communications director Dan Bartlett, when he was asked about some of its allegations.
Sizzling! countered Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), who plans a teach-in at a Seattle theater to tap into the "anger brewing against this administration."
The director, Michael Moore, predicted half his audience for his new documentary will be nonvoters and 20 percent Republican, and that those on the fence will be off it and on his side when the last credits roll. A group called Move America Forward has begun a letter-writing campaign asking theaters not to show "Michael Moore's horrible anti-American movie."
All this before "Fahrenheit 9/11" has even officially opened.
"I can't think of any precedent for it in a presidential campaign," says Frances Lee, a political science professor at Case Western Reserve University. "As a marketing phenomenon it seems to echo 'The Passion [of the Christ]': intense enthusiasm, organized groups buying tickets with proselytizing zeal, the sense that one is getting something that corporate America wanted to stifle."
Then-candidate Bill Clinton's scolding of rapper Sister Souljah in 1992 also interjected a cultural moment into the race for president. But when "Fahrenheit 9/11" opens tomorrow in 900 theaters nationwide -- a record for a documentary film release -- it will represent a far more powerful collision of culture and politics: a major film aimed directly at President Bush and his policies on terrorism and Iraq.
"I did not set out to make a political film," Moore has said in several TV interviews. "The art of this, the cinema, comes before the politics."
"It's not a personal attack on the Bush family?" asked NBC's Matt Lauer last week.
"Oh yeah, it's that. If you'd have asked the question that way," replied Moore.