Sunday, October 14, 2007

I can has boring cheezburger

A few years ago a friend gave me a copy of Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation and I didn't eat at a fast food restaurant for two years. It's an important book, one I think everyone should read, sort of a modern rendition of The Jungle.

Then Richard Linklater turned it into a film with a fantastic cast that includes Greg Kinnear, Bruce Willis, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and Luis Guzman among others. It came out and it disappeared into box office oblivion even though it got some decent reviews. It's a shame because this could have been a very important movie that changed the way we eat the way Supersize Me help affect fast food menus around the nation.

But it didn't, and I think I know why. The film is boring.

Remember that "show, don't tell" thing we all learned early in our writing lessons? Somebody forgot that rule here.

Here's the story: Some college kids did some independent tests on burgers from Mickey's fast food chain and found large levels of poop. So Greg Kinnear goes to the plant where the burgers are made and investigates the situation. In the meantime we watch Paul Dano bitch about working as a teenager in a Mickey's restaurant that could easily be robbed and a handful of illegal immigrants who work at the dangerous plant.

That's it. Rumor has it our food is dangerous but nobody dies from it. Rumor has it our plant is dangerous but nobody dies from working there, although one character does finally get injured about 75 minutes into the movie in a scene that should have been the beginning of the film.

All the things people talk about happening are more interesting than anything that actually happens.

Case in point: The "quirky" ranch owner. A fast food manager described a crazy ranch hand as quite a character, a real crazy guy, a nutjob - you'll see what I mean when you meet him. But the ranch owner, played by Kris Kristofferson, acted just like you'd expect an old ranch owner to act. I kept waiting for him to do something nutty but he never did.

That's the problem with the whole film. They talk about the killing floor where cows get butchered and you walk in pools of blood but they don't show it until almost the last frame. They talk about people losing limbs on the job but never show it. They talk about the Mickey's getting robbed but never show it. So there's no sense of real urgency ever, especially since Greg Kinnear's character works for the company so he's not really driven to find out the truth since it would negatively affect his corporate profits. Then, when he doesn't find anything out, he disappears completely from the film.

Fast Food Nation would be much improved if it started with something more important. What if we opened on a worker getting killed by accident in the plant but the supervisors cover it up and mix the body into the meat. Maybe the worker's girlfriend decides to investigate what happened. Maybe somebody finds a finger in the food and they have to investigate where it comes from.

Maybe someone in the Health Department tries to investigate but the fast food lobby tries to stop him. Or perhaps a child gets sick from E. Coli. Or a Mickey's gets robbed and an angry employee decides to get revenge on the company by telling the world how disgusting the burgers are. All of these things are based on events described in the book, and all of them would be more interesting than what is actually presented in this exposition-happy film.

There's a scene toward the end of the film where a self-righteous teenager says "Action speaks louder. I'm tired of nice people sitting around and complaining..."

Yeah, me too, man. It's too bad we didn't have this discussion at the beginning of the film.

1 comment:

  1. Hey,

    I saw that the other night and my BIGGEST problem was the beginning. They made the mistake of starting with those Mexicans whose purpose wasn't realized until too long into the movie.

    After that, it was just like trying to find something good.

    I would have started with a Mexican losing a hand and a call to replace him (that would take care of the immigration issue).

    Then I would have went to the "border." And that horrible ending where Kinnear's ambiguity left me wondering if I had missed an hour of the movie should have been rethought.


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