I have never read Fast Food Nation the book, but it supposedly was the whistleblower on the fast food industry. If that is the case, what the hell happened to its theatrical adaptation?
Fast Food Nation the movie, directed by Richard Linklater (A Scanner Darkly, The School of Rock, Dazed and Confused), is so scattered and moderate in its delivery that it appears as though McDonalds, Burger King and a dozen other fast food companies paid the studio money to drop a rock into the middle of the pool and allow all the really damaging stuff to wash up on shore all nice and safe. I was expecting an edgy, shocking and disturbing tale of animal abuse, company mistreatment and food repulsion, and instead got a safe, hardly memorable tale of illegal Mexican workers, disgruntled fast food employees and cow slaughtering.
The slaughtering of cows is by far and away the most disturbing part of the movie, but that's a problem. Everyone knows cows are slaughtered - we may not like to see it, but we know it and most of us accept it. The movie ends on a sequence of cows getting dismembered and skinned, which, while a little unpleasant to see, is hardly cause to avoid fast food restaurants. Shouldn't the point of this movie be to dissuade people from eating crap that is flavored like burgers? If so, it fails miserably. Yes, the movie talks about how cow shit sometimes gets into the meat, but never shows it, never analyzes, et cetera et cetera.
Piece by piece, Fast Food Nation isn't bad. The story about the Mexican workers (notably Wilmer Valderrama of "That 70's Show" and Catalina Sandino Moreno of Maria Full of Grace) is interesting and the most compelling, and the subplot that follows Greg Kinnear's character around shows potential. But even before he chickens out, he never really digs very deep at all, which makes us wonder what the point was in the first place. And then there's the storyline of the fast food employee who goes from complacent worker to wannabe activist, but still doesn't make a dent - how boring!
The acting is decent but not extraordinary. There is no stand out performance, and most of the actors seem restrained by the screenplay. The presence of so many well known stars is a little offsetting as well. Did Bruce Willis, Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette really need to be in this film?
Sadly, there is little substance to Fast Food Nation and very little evidence to suggest that the filmmakers actually wanted to make a difference with this piece. It seems as though a studio purchased the rights to the book and decided to bank in on the title without much regard to making something edgy or groundbreaking. I saw nothing in this film that makes me want to eat less fast food. I think I'm going to go read The Jungle now...
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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