I almost couldn't bring myself to review Fast Food Nation at all, for not only is it nearly at the end of its tenure in America's art theatres, it's just plain mediocre, and mediocre movies are hard to write about and boring to read about. But it's also a movie by Richard Linklater who I love and so I have to do something to recognize that it exists.

The film is a fictional story based on a non-fiction book by Eric Schlosser, although I don't think that's the problem with it. I think the problem is the director, and it pains me to say that. The movie is supposed to be about American culture and how we have sacrificed all of our personality and individuality to a world of instant gratification ("fast food nation"), and how this ultimately leads to our meat having ground-up cow shit in it.

But it's a Linklater film, and for good or ill (usually good), Linklater films are about people hanging out and talking.* Which is great for a lot of things that aren't satire. Satire, especially when it is primarily about how companies knowingly sacrifice our health for their profit, require fiery outrage, but this is a mood largely unknown to Linklaterian cineama. Even when they are paranoiac future shock parables about designer drug use, his films are extremely laid-back.

Now, the hanging-out stuff is vintage Linklater: the subplot about idiotic college Greens whose radicalism is purely a costume and who don't understand a single thing about cows, was particularly well-observed: I knew kids like that in college, and so did the director, I'd bet. The early scenes involving Greg Kinnear as a restaurant-chain executive assigned to the case of "what's going on in our meat" was amusing and sadly plausible, reminding me very much of the fiction of Tom Wolfe back before he lost his mind.

And then there's the stuff that is, I'm sure, very important to Richard Linklater, and could in fact have been very important in a movie that was not about the meat industry, but is very invasive and pointless, and this is the primary focus of the film: the plight of illegal Mexican immigrants, some of whom work in meat facilities. By no means do I want to suggest that there's not a hell of a movie here, but it's not the same movie as Greg Kinnear is acting in. For one thing (although there's a nifty parallel between the desperate Mexicans working for starvation wages and the bored high schoolers flipping burgers), it just doesn't have much to do with the rest of the film. Yes, it's a symptom of our fast food culture that we need cheap immigrant labor to do all of our crap jobs so that the white middle class can have everything neat and spotless, but I'm definitely meeting the film about 90% of the way on that one. Mostly, it's just a well-intentioned but sleepy exposé of how badly white people treat hispanic people, and the casting of Catalina Sandino Moreno in a primary role makes it impossible to forget that Maria Full of Grace did the same thing better a mere two years ago.

My rigid adherence to auteur theory makes me want to praise the obvious Linklatery goodness of Fast Food Nation, but my even more rigid adherence to the belief that discipline is the heart and soul of filmmaking makes me want to grab the man and shake him back and forth and yell that fully 75% of the movie has nothing to do with the movie. It's messy and aimless. Dazed and confused, you might even say. But what makes a high school movie a masterpiece makes a satire empty headed and embarrassing. Form and content, children. That is our lesson for the day. Make sure your form matches your content.

*I guess Bad News Bears wasn't, but who the hell wants to defend that as an important Linklater film?