Fast Food Nation (2006)

by | Mar 13, 2007 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Fast Food Nation (2006)

Starring: Greg Kinnear, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Wilmer Valderrama, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke
Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Eric Schlosser and Richard Linklater
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Video: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, color
Audio: English, 5.1 Dolby Surround; Spanish, 2.0 Dolby Surround
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Audio Commentaries by Director/Screenwriter Richard Linklater and Author, Screenwriter Eric Schlosser, Manufacturing Fast Food Nation featurette, Flash Animated Films: The Meatrix, The Meatrix II: Revolting, The Meatrix II½, The Backwards Hamburger, and Photo Gallery.
Length: 114 minutes
Rating: **1/2

Let me make one thing clear, I was prepared to like “Fast Food Nation.” Even love it. As it turned out, that turned out to be not the case. And I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed. You could even say that I found the taste of the movie a little off. “Fast Food Nation” is the fictional movie based on the nonfiction bestseller of the same name. According to the author of the book, Eric Schlosser, he and director Richard Linklater, decided to keep only the name and a few of the key ideas from the book when they collaborated on the screenplay. Everything else, they scrapped. It’s an interesting approach to adapting a book for a movie, but I’m not sure it’s all that successful.

“Fast Food Nation” is a complex film that follows the stories of three main characters. Well actually it’s more, but that’s where part of the problem lies in the film. The first is Don Anderson, played by Greg Kinnear. Anderson is a marketing executive for Mickey’s, a fast food burger chain modeled after. . .? Can you guess? Well, who couldn’t? This guy is sent on a mission by his boss to find out why there is so much fecal coliform in their hamburger meat. Yes, there’s more than beef in those burgers. He discovers not a lot, but hears plenty of rumors and is eventually threatened by a slightly worn Bruce Willis. He decides he doesn’t really want to know what’s going on, goes back home, and his life continues as before.

The second storyline follows the journey of illegal aliens from Mexico who walk across the border and end up working in a meat processing plant in the fictional town of Cody, Colorado. This centers on a young married couple played by Wilder Valderrama, Fez from “That 70’s Show”, and Catalina Sandino Moreno, who played Maria in “Maria Full of Grace.” The movie shows the arc of their lives in microcosm, starting with nothing, working their way towards but not reaching American middle class, and then their eventual and catastrophic decline. In a lot of ways, the entire movie could have focused on them; there was real pathos in those characters.

The third storyline followed a high school student named Amber, played by Ashley Johnson, as she becomes aware of her surroundings (she works at a Mickey’s) and decides to do something about it. Sort of. This is the part of the story that contains the most sermonizing, first from Ethan Hawke, who plays her uncle, and then from her newfound college age activist friends, which includes musician Avril Lavigne. There’s talk of fighting the system, cruelty to animals, and the injustice of branding ecoterrorists in the same light as the 911 terrorists. I can’t disagree with any of it, but it never seems to go anywhere.

And that’s the problem with the movie—it just never really goes anywhere. Some of the characters meet, but nothing of consequence happens. The storylines don’t really connect [as in Babel, or an Altman film…Ed.], the people just happen to be in the same fictional town, living their separate lives, some leaving and some staying. I suppose this is more like real life, but it doesn’t make for engaging drama. It does make a movie that limps along until it finally expires. And for those with a sensitive nature, please be aware that parts of the film were shot in a real meat processing plant on the kill floor. So whereas we are treated to one gory special effects sequence of a man falling into a giant meat grinder, at the end of the movie we are shown the very real and very graphic and very horrendous footage of cows being killed and eviscerated. All in all, I appreciate the message of the movie, and parts of it were effective, though sometimes it seemed to want to be a comedy, but never quite made it. It all comes down to this: “Fast Food Nation” is not a total failure, but neither is it a complete success. And at the end of it all, what does it mean? Well, according to the movie, if we want to enjoy the benefits of industrialization, we all need to be prepared to eat a little crap. Bon Appetit!

– Hermon Joyner

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