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Fast Food Nation

Genre: Drama
Rated: R
Directed by
: Richard Linklater
Starring: Wilmer Valderrama, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Ana Claudia Talancón, Greg Kinnear, Luis Guzmán, Paul Dano
Released by: Fox Searchlight Pictures

In Short: An ensemble cast stars in this mediocre fictionalization of a popular non-fiction book about the dark sides of the fast food industry.

Do You Want Lies with That?
A Lackluster Look at the Fast Food Industry
by Nancy Huang

When the nonfiction book Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal was first published in 2001, it quickly made a splash that fast food PR execs were none too happy to address. Author Eric Schlosser’s investigation into the fast food world crept into every crevice of the profit-driven industry, from its underpaid teenage workers, to the multi-billion-dollar agribusiness farms and meatpacking corporations, to the homogenization of the nation’s food supply. It was a wake-up call to many Americans, many of whom were disturbed to learn that there was excrement in the meat.

It’s this discovery of fecal matter in fast food burgers that marks the starting point of this fictionalized movie, directed by Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused,” “A Scanner Darkly”) and co-written by Schlosser and Linklater. Don Henderson (Greg Kinnear), a marketing executive of the growing burger chain Mickey’s, has learned that high traces of cow manure have been discovered in several of his company’s popular “Big One” burgers. He embarks on a journey to get to the bottom of this potential PR disaster, an expedition that takes him to a meatpacking plant in Cody, Colo. Through a series of intertwined vignettes, we meet illegal immigrants Raul (Wilmer Valderrama) and Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno), who have been hired to work as unskilled laborers at the Cody slaughterhouse; Amber (Ashley Johnson) and Brian (Paul Dano), the teenage minimum-wage workers at Cody’s local Mickey’s; and Rudy Martin (Kris Kristofferson), one of the few remaining cattle farmers not yet corrupted by the big meatpacking corporations.

The different storylines paint a colorful—albeit superficial—picture of the themes presented in Schlosser’s book. Despite a strong cast and a few memorable cameos by Bruce Willis and Ethan Hawke, Linklater has too many characters to develop and not enough time. As a result, the plot is weak, and very little is learned about what really goes on behind the scenes of the “Big One.” The one thing that saves the movie, however, is the dialogue, a fast-paced intellectual banter very typical of Linklater’s style.

A documentary would have been much more fitting for this movie, though it would have come hot on the heels of 2004’s Academy Award-nominated documentary “Super Size Me.” Although “Fast Food Nation” makes a very admirable effort to fictionalize Schlosser’s work, what’s left is a dull movie made from the scraps of a brilliant book. Buy the burger, skip the fries.


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