Eric Schlosser's densely researched non-fiction book Fast Food Nation was a marvel of blackly comic concentration, skewering all levels of the fast food industry. Now director Richard Linklater (Dazed And Confused, Waking Life) has remade it as an attractively shabby but low-impact piece of fiction. His enjoyably laissez faire style makes for a good time, but the movie ultimately suffers from small satiric potholes.
Peeling off its ensemble story in the loosest possible strands, fast food marketer Don Henderson (Greg Kinnear) travels to Cody, Colorado to investigate claims of gross malpractice in the local meat mill pumping out patties for his company's burgers. Henderson's world overlaps with the lives of the illegal Mexican immigrants running the horrific mill, as well as the kids that jockey the restaurant chain's counters.
The frightening and awfully true grist for this film is perfect paranoid fodder for the stoner sofa, but the film didn't need to be directed from the same point of view. Little in the film makes a visceral impact, which is shocking, given the central issue of, literally, shitty meat and eye-popping scenes depicting an abattoir's gut tables and killing floors. Fast Food Nation always remains an absorbing ride though, shot through with playfully composed cameos from the likes of Kris Kristofferson and Ethan Hawke. Ironically, the most ungainly parts are the best: foreman Bobby Cannavale cutting a thrust through the prettiest workers at the mill, or Bruce Willis as an appalling voice of capitalist morality. Still, it's not impossible that you would walk out of this picture hungry and grudgingly head for the local fast food palace. That is some indication of a movie too laidback for its own good.