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Overall Rating
2.76

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 21.21%
Average45.45%
Pretty Bad: 21.21%
Total Crap: 12.12%

4 reviews, 9 user ratings


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Fast Food Nation
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by Erik Childress

"There’s No Rotoscoping A Cattle Slaughter."
4 stars

Although I never read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, there was a part of me not so deep down inside that wanted to avoid it at all costs. My living in denial lifestyle had afforded me some yummy meals from the kid craving for McDonald’s to the adult who’d rather ignore Jared’s Subway pitches than get out of my car. Then at Sundance a few years ago, I caught one of the first screenings of Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, the terrific documentary about Mickey D gorgings that led me to vow to lay off the golden arches forever. (Lasting over a year was still a victory in my mind.) Translating non-fiction into narrative is a daunting task, but Schlosser’s statistic filled book still seems like a natural for such a transition. Albeit instead of going for an easier comic approach, director Richard Linklater alongside the author have a greater ambition in mind and even when he does hit the soapbox a little too hard, Fast Food Nation still becomes the feel-bad movie of the year. And not just in an intestinal sort of way.

Taking a page from the multi-story-in-one milieu, our chief guide into what’s between the buns is Don Henderson (Greg Kinnear), a marketing exec for the fast food chain, Mickey’s, which is on the verge of huge profits thanks to their new “Big One” burger. His boss though has heard some disturbing rumors about the growing feces count in the meat they’re buying and sends Don to Colorado to investigate. Making an entirely different business trip are a group of illegal immigrants crossing the border with significantly less trouble than the folks in Babel. Among them are Raul (Wilmer Valderrama), his wife Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and her ogle-intensive sister, Coco (Ana Claudia Talancón). Coming in as cheap labor, they are sardined into a hotel room and picked for various jobs at the nearby meat-packing plant where injury is expected and blame for it is shifted to the worker.

At the Mickey’s location in town, we meet the high-schoolers working minimum wage. (Although its never discussed exactly how much they make, the dots are there to notice that the aliens are probably making more.) A pair of slackers, not nearly as lively as those seen in Kevin Smith’s Clerks films, even devise how easy it would be to rip the place off. But the one who takes her job with some pride, Amber (Ashley Johnson), slowly begins to understand that her brain could be put to better use after encouragement from her mom (Patricia Arquette) and uncle Ethan Hawke, who fascinates her with his tales of his muckraking college days.

In somewhat of a surprise, the film becomes one of two halves with the illegals playing the supporting role to the higher class (even if it only reaches the middle) white folk, Don and Amber who become the chief players in each respective half. The decision to drop Don almost entirely from the proceedings (until a brief bit during the end credits) may leave a gaping hole for those firmly attached to him as the arc in tune with our own discoveries. His conversations with a rancher (Kris Kristofferson) and cattle supplier (Bruce Willis) reveal the uneasy truths about the conditions of the plant and the easy denials even in the face of health concerns. Untrained workers and drugs supplied to help keep up with the speeded up line leads to the kind of mistakes that leave the carved portions bathing in the shade of color that should only occur after they’ve been on the grill. “Just cook the meat,” should be the counter-slogan fashioned by every restaurant and supermarket in America.

Every burger is met with a little more resistance from Don who seems destined to lead some cinematic crusade to Congress on our behalf. But, while it may seem contemptuous to some, there’s nothing cynical about a man choosing his own family over the health of a disregarding country. In a unique way though the film does benefit from Don’s absence; the abandonment of anyone from the corporate levels doing anything to educate or save us from ourselves. Enter Amber, advised to use her brain instead of her body to advance society, who witnesses first-hand the film’s ultimate metaphor of the intellectual capacity we imbue in the face of being rescued.

Fast Food Nation does struggle in the face of such metaphors though in its need to wake up the cattle in the audience. The scenes with Kristofferson, Willis, Hawke and a group of college students (including Avril Lavigne) grease us up for the punch, delivers its payload and then extend well beyond just to make sure we get it. Amber’s climactic realization carries the same burden and then includes an epilogue that’s like pouring on the condiments after the sandwich has already been wrapped. Although I admire Linklater’s attempt at sprawling out the blame, and in some instances justifying the bigwig POV through our ignorance, it doesn’t come with the subdued ironies that concluded the superior A Scanner Darkly earlier this year.

Linklater does earn points for leading the cattle directly to the slaughter in the end; graphic images that are unlikely to produce anything but horror even to the most gluttoness. Whether or not these disturbing sights will resonant enough to inspire anyone to enter the salad days, they should be enough to give a second thought before the first bite into the next Whopper – even if its just a millisecond before the teeth hit the bun. Fast Food Nation does stir the blades a lot deeper than Jason Reitman’s Thank You For Smoking did, which was a satire too self-aware of its attempts at mockery to succeed as a social statement or even a worthwhile comedy. It would have been nice to have another scene or two tracing the chemical input installed for such juicy goodness, which seems like it would be far more harmful than whatever acceptable level of fecal matter is allowed. On the other hand, I rather agree with the George Carlin-esque statement in the film that Americans have gone soft, avoiding things that are “bad for you” and denying our immune systems to do what they have been designed to do. As Willis so eloquently sums up the film chewing on a giant wad of cow, “we all have to eat a little shit from time to time.” And if all else fails, we can always just crap it out and flush.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=15276&reviewer=198
originally posted: 11/17/06 16:15:30
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Florida Film Festival For more in the 2007 Florida Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/23/12 roscoe this straight up sucks ass. 1 stars
1/23/11 Jeff Wilder Makes good points. But doesn't have the emotional impact it should. 3 stars
4/21/09 brian Thank you Mister Obvious. 3 stars
1/09/09 Anonymous. disturbing. 3 stars
5/09/08 Karrie Millheim ok, i hated it, duh fastfood is bad for you 1 stars
10/11/07 Charles Tatum Jeez, Linklater, how do your really feel about EVERYTHING? 1 stars
5/31/07 Derrick One of the worst movies I have ever seen. 1 stars
5/04/07 M Craven Could have hit harder or left out Avril's "acting" but still worth watching 4 stars
2/05/07 William Goss Detached docudrama and sloppy sermon. All purpose and no impact once Kinnear leaves. 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  17-Nov-2006 (R)
  DVD: 06-Mar-2007

UK
  N/A

Australia
  26-Oct-2006



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