Fast Food Nation *1/2
Fast food is probably America's biggest guilty pleasure. Is it possible to resist the smell of cheap hamburgers, beckoning to you on every single street corner and highway stop in the known universe? I sometimes doubt it. I don't indulge in it often, but when I do I feel like I've just committed some kind of sin. It is possible to have a delicious meal for a very low price, as long as you ignore the health risks that is. . . "Fast Food Nation" pretty much shoves the health risks right down your throat, and then continues to give you a second helping when you're already full. And then a third helping for extra measure.
This appeared to sound like something great. Alright, we have a satire about fast food-an easy target but still one that is a lot of fun. Especially after 2004's "Super Size Me." Everybody loved that one. . . And then we have a great cast. Faces like Greg Kinnear, Kris Kristofferson, Patricia Arquette, Bobby Carnivale, Paul Dano-it's a whose who of celebrities-known and unknown. And the entire interconnected story lines-all of these people affected by the dangers of fast food. And then you have what makes "Fast Food Nation" the grade E slab of film that it is. . . Richard Linklater. Linklater is alright when he's not doing what he loves to do-film people talking about theories of life and politics. I found it neatly impossible to sit through earlier films like "Slacker" and "Waking Life" because of this. Thankfully he drifted from it in his more entertaining "School of Rock" and this year's "A Scanner Darkly," but the last hour is loaded with some of the dullest dialogues and never ending conversations of nothing but repetition of the same point over and over again. I almost forgot I was watching the same movie.
That being said, "Fast Food Nation" is divided into two parts. The first hour is rather enjoyable, and is great setup for the nothingness of the second hour. It focuses on Don Anderson, played by Greg Kinnear who doesn't have to do much here, but is still as likable as ever. Don is a marketing executive for Mickey's, a fast food chain whose newest addition to the menu is creating quite a stir. Don is forced to go out of town after learning something very interesting about the beef patties used in their biggest products-"There's sh*t in the meat!" Don takes a trip to the meat packing plant, where he learns that the conditions are not satisfactory at all. He is given a tour of the place, and doesn't see any problems-stainless steel, sanitary conditions, happy people. Little does he know of the "cut floor" where the floors have blood that goes up to your ankle, and it's not rare for people to loose a limb or two in the dirty and unsafe machines. In addition, he learns that there is feces in the meat, brought about by a conveyor belt that goes way too fast. One false cut, and then feces could spread all over the patties. And it's an easy fix too-the machines just have to slow down. Unfortunately, it'll make the company less money if they slow down the belt, and that is something that they do not want to risk. But then Don is forced to ignore the unsafe conditions at the plant in order to keep his family and job secure, and he leaves intending on giving a great report to his boss and to anyone that asks about the company. Little does he know the effects that this will have:
Thus leading into the second half.
We are then drawn into a story regarding the meat packing plant, and the immigrants that cross the border to work there, namely Sylvia and Raul. The couple has just crossed the border, and Raul has been given a job in the cut floor. Sylvia also has to live with her good sister turning bad after resorting to drugs and having an affair with the evil supervisor at the plant. And then there is a third storyline which is the most painful to endure, the story of Amber, a high school student who has a job at Mickey's, but quits to not have to end up like her mother, who also works at a fast food restaurant.
The second half turns foul with Linklater's obsession with lengthy monologues. He drills the point that fast food is bad into your head to the point where you want to go out and find a Taco Bell right away. Kinnear's set up made me intrigued to see how his decision will affect everybody else, but what I got what Ethen Hawke talking for ten minutes about his niece working in fast food, and a series of college know it all types that intend on freeing the cows from their trapped lives in the farm. It became almost painful to watch, and I could imagine Linklater penning the script, adding more and more to the speeches, grinning more and more as he did it. The story with Amber and her experiences at Mickey's were pointless, and added insult to injury. The story with the Mexican immigrants was interesting, but couldn't get me invested in the characters at all. I didn't care about them, and them being forced to work in the dangerous factory. Perhaps if they discarded the third segment, and developed and focused the second half on this section more, this could have somewhat been saved-after all my biggest problem was with Amber's section, and her adventures into the minds of college know it alls. I also began to miss Kinnear, who disappears after an hour and isn't seen again until during the end credits. I missed the intriguing set ups, and the actual decent film making. Maybe if you leave when Kinnear leaves-before the dreaded "Three Months Later" title-and this'll be a semi-decent experience. Spare yourselves the torment and the pretentious writing of Richard Linklater and walk out.
Oh, and who can forget the final few minutes. The third helping of the message that Linklater is giving us. We spend the entire film hearing about this "cut floor," where the cows are slaughtered, that we actual see it. An injury, a man loosing his leg, and then the slaughtering of a cow, bit by bit, organ by organ. And while it was graphic and disturbing, it was also simply unnecessary. At this point, I think the viewer understands what is being said. This snuff scene wasn't needed to seal the deal. "Fast Food Nation" could be described as a more serious version of "Thank You for Smoking" meeting "Syriana." I recommend you rent both of those better films, and have a double feature. The four hours is much better than the two hour lost cause that was "Fast Food Nation."