`Nation' -- all about slipping consumers a `Mickey'

Critics' picks: New DVDs

March 04, 2007|By NICK MADIGAN

FAST FOOD NATION -- 20th Century Fox / $27.98

Richard Linklater takes a quasi-fictional approach to a decidedly nonfiction book, Fast Food Nation, the Inconvenient Truth of the fast-food industry. In this telling, written by Linklater and the book's author, Eric Schlosser, a hamburger chain called Mickey's is a rapacious conglomerate too concerned with profit to bother with such details as the welfare of its employees, many of them illegal immigrants who are abused and discarded like so many pieces of gristle.

Linklater, who also directed Slacker (1991) and A Scanner Darkly (2006), centers this film, which will be released Tuesday on DVD, on the assembly-line culture of a hellish Colorado slaughterhouse that provides beef for Mickey's. His peripheral plot threads illustrate the insidious reach of the company's tentacles and the dead-end world of remote towns populated by characterless fast-food joints serving junk of dubious provenance.

"Marketing rule number one: Don't kill the customer," says Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear), a Mickey's executive dispatched to the slaughterhouse to investigate reports of manure in hamburgers. "It's bad for repeat business." A beef supplier (Bruce Willis) tries to dissuade Anderson from looking further, lest it cost him his job, while a wistful cattle rancher (Kris Kristofferson) tells him he'll never get to the truth because his own company won't let him -- a prescient prediction.

Linklater's intent, expressed in an hour-long "making-of" documentary on the Fast Food Nation DVD, was to foster improvisation on the set, and it shows -- not always to illuminating effect. But most of the cast (which includes Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Catalina Sandino Moreno and Avril Lavigne) rises above the often didactic material and drives home the human cost of seeking a livelihood in an industry that cares little for people's lives.

Special features

In addition to the documentary, Manufacturing Fast Food Nation, there is an audio commentary track featuring Linklater and Schlosser; several animated menus; a gallery of promotional photos; and three short animated films, satirically inspired by The Matrix trilogy, about farm animals destined for the slaughterhouse. Another short, The Backwards Hamburger, looks at what might have come into contact with your hamburger on its way to your mouth.

ALSO ANTICIPATED

PETER PAN TWO-DISC PLATINUM EDITION --Walt Disney Video / $29.99

Digitally restored to a high shine visually and aurally, Disney's 1953 classic screen version of James M. Barrie's fantasy adventure tale now includes a read-along for youngsters; a set of three children's games; a featurette on the film's technical marvels; a black-and-white promotional film made for Peter Pan's theatrical release; two music videos; Walt Disney's own explanation of why he made the film; and a preview of the forthcoming computer-animated film Tinkerbell.

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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