Super Size Me

dir. Spurlock

Opens Fri May 14

Fox Tower

It's never a bad idea to bash fast food, but if Morgan Spurlock's hyper-kinetic documentary Super Size Me had come out six years ago, it would be darn near revolutionary. As it stands, it's basically a visual/aural rehash of everything Eric Schlosser covered in his seminal book Fast Food Nation, but with a fascinating twist.

In an inspired bout of artistic commitment, Spurlock set aside a month during which he ate nothing but McDonald's at every meal. The effects of this endeavor were astounding. He put on 30 pounds in 30 days, suffered periods of intense chest pain, shortness of breath, and was told by multiple doctors that if he continued at his unorthodox eating pace he would die from liver failure within six months.

As the movie progresses, a palpable sense of dread mounts, as Spurlock continues to stuff McNuggets and french fries in the face of terrible health reports. At the same time, there's also only so many ways a guy can depict himself eating and still keep things interesting. For padding, he intersplices fast food factoids that anyone who read Schlosser's book (which was a lot of people) already knows. Spurlock seems to realize his research is treading on familiar ground, and seems desperate to spice things up, but the onslaught of colorful animation and nifty sound effects is show-offy and grating. Spurlock is a bit of a drama queen in general. In one scene, he eats a Super Sized Extra Value Meal for the first time, then leans out the car window and horks onto the pavement. Though the puking seems genuine, it's not a likely scenario (or else McDonald's would be struggling mightily), and including it is more harmful to Spurlock's cause than helpful.

Such lapses into in-your-face crudeness (Spurlock also provides a lovely close-up of his prostate exam) add a Jackass mentality to the proceedings, undermining Spurlock's potential as a true igniter of social change. Though Super Size Me's hook alone is enough to take the important messages of Fast Food Nation to an even larger audience, one can't help but wonder what a more mature filmmaker could have done with this remarkable material.