|Fast Food Nation (2006)
Starring: Patricia Arquette, Bobby Cannavale, Luis Guzman, Ethan Hawke, Ashley Johnson, Greg Kinnear, Kris Kristofferson, Wilmer Valderrama, Bruce Willis
Director: Richard Linklater
“Fast Food Nation” doesn’t show you anything the filmmakers’ don’t feel the audience absolutely needs to see in order to get their message across. Which is to say that they show you everything they possibly can; including a grotesque look at the “kill zone” of a meatpacking factory (where the cows are slaughtered) that is intentionally reserved for the film’s finale. And though the image is disturbing, it’s unlikely to leave much of an impression on any regular, fast food-chomping American for more than a couple days.
This heavy-handed lecture on the social repercussions of the fast food industry revolves around three interconnecting storylines with one thing in common: Mickey’s, a rapidly-growing fast food chain based out of Cody, Colorado. At the forefront of the tale is Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear) – Vice President of Marketing and the creator of the industry’s latest beef patty behemoth, the Big One – but when news hits that the sandwich is testing positive for high counts of fecal matter, Don is sent to Cody to investigate. Meanwhile, a Mexican couple (Wilmer Valderrama and Catalina Sandino Moreno) crosses the border into America to work at the Uni-Globe Meat packing plant (where the Big Ones are made), only to discover numerous hazards await , and a teenage employee (Ashley Johnson) is influenced to quit her after-school job at Mickey’s to protest against the company’s cruel business ethics.
Based on the non-fiction bestseller of the same name, “Fast Food Nation” is a poorly written narrative that would have been better off as a documentary. Only snippets of author Eric Schlosser’s collected data is actually inserted into the final product, like an early scene that discusses how chemicals are used to create unique tastes, and none of it feels particularly genuine when displayed as comedic set pieces. Even worse is the sudden drop-off in the main storyline – which has Don exploring the dirty rumors behind the Cody plant one minute, and then completely MIA the next – as well as the random cameos by big name talents like Ethan Hawke, Bruce Willis and Kris Kristofferson, whose presences feel far too gimmicky to be taken seriously.
In the end, the message is quite clear – fast food chains are evil – but the manner in which the information is disclosed is so one-sided that you can’t help but feel like you’re being beaten over the head with a Truth Stick by some pompous liberal vegetarian – in this case, director Richard Linklater. The film doesn’t even enlighten the audience on anything they didn’t already know (or care to know) before entering the theater. Fast food is extremely convenient and incredibly delicious, and anyone who displays even the tiniest shred of independent thought already knows the dangers of cramming that junk down your throat. “Fast Food Nation” does little more than to exaggerate such a notion, and in the process comes off looking like “Super Size Me Lite."
Despite its massive failure at the box office, “Fast Food Nation” is first and foremost a movie about education, so it shouldn’t at all be surprising that the studio has taken that route with the DVD. Highlighted by an insightful audio commentary by writer/director Richard Linklater and author Eric Schlosser, the single-disc release also features a 55-minute making-of featurette (“Manufacturing Fast Food Nation”), a promotional short disclosing important facts about the fast food industry (“The Backward Hamburger”), and a trio of animated shorts (“The Meatrix”) parodying the sci-fi saga with animal characters that include Leo the Pig, Moopheus the Cow, and Chickity the Chicken. The idea may seem lame to most adults, but would operate well as a great educational tool for young children. All in all, not a bad collection of bonus material that only further proves why the film would have worked better as a documentary.