Based upon the non-fiction book by Eric Schlosser, "Fast Food Nation" takes the book and makes it into a fictional film. We already know that fast food isn't good for us, but "Nation" also comes at a time when there's been several news stories regarding patrons getting ill from eating at various chains. The film takes a look behind the scenes at the fictional "Mickeys" (wink wink, nudge nudge), where marketing whiz Don Henderson (Greg Kinnear) has just been informed that traces of cow fecal matter have shown up in burger meat at the restaurants.
He's sent off on a trip to Colorado to check out the plant, where illegal immigrants Raul (Wilmer Valderrama) and Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno) are currently working in some pretty miserable conditions. There's also Amber (Ashley Johnson), a Mickey's cashier who is thinking about quitting her job and joining some friends who are planning to sabotage the plant in protest. Henderson, who had been previously going along in his day-to-day checking on new additives and chatting with execs (and seems altogether far too naive about what he finds), is now questioning his career after meeting with a supplier (Bruce Willis) who seems altogether unconcerned about the incidents of tainted meat.
Director Richard Linklater ("Scanner Darkly", "School of Rock") doesn't exactly get into the material in the way that one would hope. There's a lot to get upset about in the book and in situations in the film, but the movie wanders rather aimlessly between the stories, and what should be an intense drama feels subdued.
The film's other issue is that subplots are never really developed and characters wander in and out. Kinnear's character seems like a main character, then suddenly vanishes. Bruce Willis and Ethan Hawke are good in small parts, but they're here-and-gone. The material is supposed to be an exploration of the fast food industry, but we get some of that and an uneven look at the lives of some of the people involved in it.
That's not to say that there's not some aspects of "Fast Food Nation" to appreciate. Kinnear's performance is quite good, although again, his character seems almost unbelievably naive. Ashley Johnson and Catalina Sandino Moreno are also quite good, but their characters could be more developed. Had Linklater been able to focus on the subject matter (the movie tries to explore several other topics, including immigration, and ends up spreading itself much to thin) and streamline the story. Morgan Spurlock's "Super Size Me" remains a much more compelling and informative look at the fast food industry and it's effects on our culture. "Fast Food Nation" should have had a greater focus on the industry, instead of this group of loosely connected characters.
VIDEO: The review copy that arrived offered the special features that came with the final product, but the video presentation is not the same as final copy; hopefully the video quality on the final copy will be better.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack had little use for the surrounds and remained almost entirely dialogue-driven. Audio quality was fine, with clear, undistorted dialogue.
EXTRAS: "Manufacturing Fast Food Nation" is a 55-minute "making of" documentary that takes a "fly on the wall" look at the making of the picture, offering some interviews with the cast and crew, but often going behind the camera to watch as scenes are planned out and filmed. We also hear from writer Schlosser. Definitely not a promotional piece, this is a very informative and interesting piece that's worth watching. We also get four short animated films - The Meatrix, The Meatrix II, The Meatrix II ½ and The Backwards Hamburger, as well as a photo gallery and a commentary from director Richard Linklater and writer Eric Schlosser.
Final Thoughts: "Fast Food Nation" should have had a greater focus on the industry, instead of this group of loosely connected characters. There are some good performances here, but this fictional take on Schlosser's non-fiction book just doesn't hook the interest like it should. Those interested in how the popular book was adapted for the screen should definitely consider renting first.
The Film C