- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2006

If you plan on seeing “Fast Food Nation” this weekend, you’d better skip the dinner component of dinner-and-a-movie. The film may be a fictionalized web of interwoven narratives, but it’s spun from the hard-to-stomach and often downright gruesome facts presented in Eric Schlosser’s 2001 best-selling book of the same name.

Like Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary “Super Size Me,” both the written and cinematic versions of “Fast Food” share the thesis that fast food is bad. However, where Mr. Spurlock focused primarily on the aftereffects of fast food (i.e. health dangers), Mr. Schlosser’s reporting zeroes in on the industry itself, following the production chain from farm to drive-through.

To bring his reportage to life onscreen, the author worked with Richard Linklater (“Before Sunrise,” “Slacker”), who also directs the movie. Their co-authored script contains three main fictional subplots that give the inhumane truth human faces: the corporate executive, the slaughterhouse worker and the poorly paid “Mickey’s” cashier.

Greg Kinnear is perfectly cast in his starring role as Don Anderson, a naively sunny businessmen. Don’s creative team at Mickey’s has invented the newest hit burger, but his success is eclipsed by tests showing high fecal content in the burgers. (And yes, this plot twist comes right from the book’s pages.) Don is sent to Colorado to investigate.

Meanwhile out West, three illegal aliens from Mexico have just obtained jobs at the speed-over-safety slaughterhouse that Don will later visit. One of these workers, Raul, is played by Wilmer Valderrama, the Latin-American star of “That 70’s Show,” who may surprise audiences with this serious, Spanish-language role.

Raul, his girlfriend and her sister will all discover why illegals provide the firm’s primary labor force: because no one else will put up with the working conditions. Or the stench.

Finally, Ashley Johnson, best known for her role as Chrissy Seaver on “Growing Pains,” portrays a bright-eyed teenager holding down a minimum wage job at Mickey’s — until some tree-hugging college students educate her on the employer’s darker side.

Cameos of varying degrees (including Avril Lavigne, Bruce Willis and Kris Kristofferson) and lesser themes (the disappearing cattle rancher, etc.) pepper the plot, but might be unnecessary and overly ambitious.

As is often the case with movies like this, some plotlines — like Raul’s — deserve more fleshing out, while others could stand to be cut. And too many plot strands are left dangling at the end.

Ultimately, Mr. Schlosser’s main message does resound: This system is downright frightening, from the way it mistreats animals to the way it disregards human welfare. But will audiences discount the movie’s factual foundation since it isn’t a documentary? (The book is harder to refute.) Furthermore, as with “Super Size Me,” will the people who really need the convincing shell out $10 for it?

Whatever the answers, as theatergoers leave the theater intending to eat salad for a week, they should recall that the most recent major E. coli outbreak was caused not by beef, but spinach. (The movie gives some clues why.) Suddenly, the film takes on a much greater sense of urgency — and makes local farm markets look better and better.

***

TITLE: “Fast Food Nation”

RATING: R (graphic slaughter scenes, language and mature themes)

CREDITS: Directed by Richard Linklater. Screenplay by Eric Schlosser and Richard Linklater. Based on the book by Eric Schlosser.

RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes

WEB SITE: www.foxsearchlight.

com/fastfoodnation/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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