”We all have to eat a little s— from time to time.” That’s Bruce Willis philosophizing, as a Colorado cattle supplier unperturbed by reports of poop in the patties in Fast Food Nation. The cattleman’s viewpoint, expressed to a marketing exec (Greg Kinnear) of an extremely McDonald’s-like fictional burger behemoth, is one of capitalist pragmatism. But it’s also served with a tasty ground-up heaping of outrage and irony, then chewed over by Kinnear (the new official mascot of put-upon American family men). And that’s the Fast Food Nation appeal, first of Eric Schlosser’s 2001 exposé that turned millions off their Big Mac feeds (at least for a week) and now of this freewheeling dramatized adaptation by filmmaker Richard Linklater, which asks and answers the question, Dude, do we really have to eat s— to have it our way? S—, no.
Even the most ardent advocate of supersizing is likely to know already that the behind-the-counter world of Quarter Pounders and Whoppers isn’t pretty. But the movie’s muckraking power — loosely wielded, in slackerish tones pitched for reception by the text-message generation — lies in piecing together how that poop gets into those patties, with a logic that can’t easily be shrugged off. For a change, the interwoven ensemble approach to storytelling works even though handled by someone other than Robert Altman. (It helps that Linklater, who extends Babelicious plot twining to the illegal Mexican immigrants working the slaughterhouse jobs no one else will take, doesn’t strain farther around the world to tie in, say, a deaf Japanese teenager.)
Naturally, a subject this right-on draws a right-on cast. Kris Kristofferson, Avril Lavigne, and Ethan Hawke pitch in. And in the ripe Mexican subplot — featuring Bobby Cannavale, Luis Guzmán, and Wilmer Valderrama — Catalina Sandino Moreno (pictured, with Valderrama) makes her post?Maria Full of Grace debut. She looks lovely even when stained with cow blood, while the horrors of the killing-floor conditions in which she works argue for a salad after the show.