For all the hand-wringing by McDonald's and other food marketers over the upcoming theatrical release of "Fast Food Nation," a fictionalized drama based on Eric Schlosser's shocking 2001 nonfiction best-seller, the film does little to advance what the book started, let alone make a compelling case against the ills of big food.
Not the same impact
There, I said it. And I'm not alone. "I don't' think it had the impact as 'Super Size Me,'" said Derek Salter, 26, who saw the movie at a showing yesterday at River East Theater in Chicago. He works for a commercial production house but didn't want to reveal its name.
Frankly, the film was disappointing. The biggest revelation of the free screening for some 400 Chicagoans was the absence of the normal half-hour-long parade of previews, save a single peek at Fox Searchlight's "The History Boys."
It's not that the film didn't question the cleanliness or safety of the food in restaurants or remind viewers of the dangers teenagers and illegal immigrants face in the much-maligned McJobs that support America's craving for burgers and fries. And it had its fair share of graphic slaughterhouse scenes -- the gutting, the skinning, the entrails sliding down the production line -- which moved some audience members to openly weep.
Too much to swallow
The biggest problem with the movie was its ambition. The film aimed to weave together three storylines: a VP-marketing for "Mickey's" on a mission to find out how manure is getting into his latest burger, "The Big One"; a group of young immigrants who cross the border to work in a dangerous meat-packing plant; and a teen clerk who works at a fast-feeder but dreams of something more. But, ultimately, not one of those snapshots of fast food's ugly side played out coherently.
In addition, the film failed to wield a smoking gun for any of its implied or stated charges against the industry. When the lead character, the VP-marketing at Mickey's, is told "there's shit in the meat," he goes to great lengths to inspect the packing plant, talk to locals and compare notes with his manufacturer's rep. The film could have gone one more step to demonstrate how exactly the meat becomes contaminated, but characters merely talk about the issue instead.
But some viewers said the flick was worth seeing, despite its shortcomings. "Everybody has a product, but at what cost do you push your product?" asked Dani Deahl, 24, whose family owns a tabletop-TV-production business. While she agreed the film didn't flow well, she liked the concept and praised the way the marketing issues were treated. "I thought it was completely accurate," she said.
Lucinda Dieker, 27, said she came to see how mass meat production was depicted in the film. "I think the feed lots were accurate. Too bad they can't reproduce the smell. I've read parts of 'Fast Food Nation' and [the movie] reinforces what I believed."