By Admin | November 17, 2006

Eric Schlosser’s 2001 non-fiction book “Fast Food Nation” freaked people out when it arrived in bookstores. I mean, the fact that probably 98% of all things pertaining to fast food are bad for you wasn’t exactly news, but it was never spelled out quite so plainly. America’s consumption and thirst for cheap products is obvious, we’d just really prefer not think about it as we consume our way to obesity and oblivion. Still, the book made waves (and continues to) but few ever thought it would someday become a movie. Thankfully director Richard Linklater has always found a way to make what seems un-cinematic into an experience not to be missed.

“Fast Food Nation” is basically the book brought to life with fictional characters. We meet company man Don Anderson (Kinnear) who heads the marketing department for fictional fast food joint “Mickey’s.” He’s sent to tiny Cody, Colorado to try and figure out why almost all the meat patties at Mickey’s have cow manure in them. We s**t you not. In Cody, Kinnear’s character sort of serves as our tour guide into the world of fast food. We meet cute high school cashier Amber (Johnson), a bright eyed girl on the verge of having her own life and own thoughts away from small town America. We meet various people at the meat packing plant as well as higher ranking Mickey’s officials like the smarmy Harry Rydell (Willis) who sees no problem with corporate progress. Yet there’s also another entire storyline featuring Mexican workers who’ve come to America illegally to double their income as laborers.

Raul (Valderrama) and Sylvia (Moreno) are a young couple in love who seek a better life in the States. After a rough border crossing by way of “coyote” Benny (Guzman), they are employed as cleaning crew at the meat packing plant and as a hotel maid. While the various storylines are all intriguing and well acted, we sometimes lose track of certain characters as individual storylines arc better than others. Another issue with the film is the various cameos by stars like Ethan Hawk, Avril Lavine, Kris Kristofferson and the aforementioned Bruce Willis. Each character that they play is great and fits the film, but it’s distracting in the same way “The Thin Red Line” was distracting. Seeing a big star pop up unexpectedly is jarring and takes you out of the moment.

Still, “Fast Food Nation” is every bit as important as docs like “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Fahrenheit 9-11.” While the film is on it’s surface about the fast food industry, it’s also about that field you played in as a kid that now has five hundred houses slathered all over it. It’s about the cavalcade of fast food joints that line damn near every street in America. It’s about a fat, lazy culture that devours cheap labor, crappy products and the lies we’re told like Godzilla in Tokyo. Yet through it all, “Fast Food Nation” never really preaches to viewers, it just lays ideas out there. In that respect, it’s every bit a talky, philosophical Richard Linklater movie.

While I can’t say I’ll never eat fast food again, “Fast Food Nation” makes you really think. It’s also really sad and fairly disgusting. But if that’s the bitter pill we have to swallow in order to look at what we’re doing to ourselves, then it’s a bad taste I can live with.

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