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FAST FOOD NATION (director/writer: Richard Linklater; screenwriter: Eric Schlosser/based on the book by Mr. Schlosser; cinematographer: Lee Daniel; editor: Sandra Adair; music: Friends of Dean Martinez; cast: Patricia Arquette (Cindy), Bobby Cannavale (Mike), Paul Dano (Brian), Luis Guzman (Benny), Ethan Hawke (Pete), Ashley Johnson (Amber), Greg Kinnear (Don Anderson), Kris Kristofferson (Rudy Martin), Avril Lavigne (Alice), Esai Morales (Tony), Catalina Sandino Moreno (Sylvia), Lou Taylor Pucci (Paco), Ana Claudia Talancón (Coco), Wilmer Valderrama (Raul), Bruce Willis (Harry Rydell), Paul Dano (Brian); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jeremy Thomas/Malcolm McLaren; Fox Searchlight Pictures; 2006)
“Fills us with too much stuffing to digest in one sitting.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Richard Linklater (“Before Sunrise”/”Before Sunset”/”Waking Life”) bases this comical and social conscience drama on Eric Schlosser’s muckraking nonfiction 2001 best seller that was an exposé of the McDonald’s conspiracy about its products. It focuses on the fictionalized ‘number one’ fast-food Mickey’s franchise (“Home of the Big One”) to show how American life is reeling from its love affair with fast food. Ambitiously it skewers the way American life (capitalism) is based on artificiality and lies, as it uses the junk food phenomenon sweeping the country as a background story built around a well-observed human drama that interconnects illegal Mexican immigrants and a fast-food chain using their marketing skills to con the public with how the popular culture influences our lives. It also points out the dangerous health issues and social consequences the fast-food culture has for the American public, while it offers a no holds barred scathing commentary on corporate America and its unethical business practices. It’s a very complex film that doesn’t just aim to steer one away from eating junk food, but offers a hardhitting critique of American life from a dialectical viewpoint. It ends with unappetizing graphic images of slaughter and butchery in an actual abattoir (filmed in Mexico), which might make one think twice about dining out at your local fast-food emporium.

The CEO of Mickey’s fast-food chain at a board meeting in Southern California dispatches his cheerful hotshot marketing executive, Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear), someone not capable of being sincere but nevertheless thinking he can be, the marketing genius behind America’s best-selling hamburger called the “The Big One,” to Cody, Colorado to investigate reports from independent researchers of shit in its meat products coming from its UMP mega-meatpacking plant. That’s where the fast-food chain’s meat is packed and frozen.

The story will cover how the following groups are all part of the economic feeding chain and their stories will intersect over Don’s investigation of the meatpacking plant, the Mexican illegals who work in the Cody plant and a Mickey’s cashier counter teenager girl from Cody named Amber (Ashley Johnson) turned eco-activist.

Don meets with embittered liberal cattle rancher Rudy Martin (Kris Kristofferson), who is not surprised that the meat is contaminated, as he points out that UMP runs their production line too fast and the shit pours in when the guts are ripped out. He also concludes by saying “The machine has taken over this country . . . like something out of science fiction.” From a realistic cynical meat supplier, Harry Rydell (Bruce Willis), who arranged the sweetheart deal with UMP, Don’s told just to cook it properly and no harm will come (which might be the public’s best hope of not getting sick). Harry shakes the bland Don up further, as he philosophically states that “we all have to eat a little shit from time to time.”

The story follows how illegals are sneaked over the border into Cody by the amoral coyote Benny (Luis Guzman). One of those illegals, Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno), chooses to work as a motel cleaning woman; while her hot-headed sister Coco (Ana Claudia Talancon) and her boyfriend Raul (Wilmer Valderrama), both hard workers, get jobs at the packing plant, where they face horrible working conditions and bias.

Amber is a serious high school student, working part-time at Mickey’s to save for college, who suddenly after a visit from her hippie cabinet-maker Uncle Pete (Ethan Hawke), joins a sincere but naive youth protest group. Through Amber’s suggestion, the group frees a bunch of cows from a pasture while neglecting the greater issue of the exploited workers.

It’s all good what Linklater puts on the plate, but because it tries to put too much on the plate it loses its muckraking focus and fills us with too much stuffing to digest in one sitting.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”