By Jeffrey M. Anderson
Most reality programming doesn't directly affect us. Whichever whiny, caterwauling twenty-something becomes the next pop star or whoever gets voted off the island, or which square-jawed moron ends up with the Barbie-blonde, doesn't alter our daily lives the slightest whit.
But Morgan Spurlock has changed all that. With his new documentary "Super Size Me," he uses a "reality show" gimmick to get us into the theater, but winds up teaching us something and may even cause us to re-examine our habits and beliefs.
By now Spurlock is fairly well known as the guy who ate nothing but McDonald's fast food for 30 days straight, three meals a day -- no exceptions. In addition, he swore to try everything on the menu and to "supersize" his meal whenever offered.
The immediate results of this experiment were that the healthy, active Spurlock gained 24 1/2 pounds and raised his cholesterol level from a healthy 165 to a dangerous 230. Moreover, he was not able to get more than half his daily vitamins and he strained his liver to the point that his doctors feared for his life.
While on his diet, Spurlock takes his camera crew around the U.S., exploring Americans' attitudes about fast food. He provides a mountain of research, explaining the dangers of obesity, revealing the huge advertising budgets for fast food as compared to the miniscule ones for fruits and vegetables and interviewing lobby groups like Sodexho, whose job it is to promote McDonald's food.
As if all this weren't enough for a terrific movie, the gods of kismet blessed Morgan with a girlfriend, Alex, who happens to be -- of all things -- a vegan chef. No one could have been more purely offended by Morgan's new diet. But on the plus side, Alex turns up at the end to pump some actual nutrition back into Morgan's system.
"Super Size Me" was enough to get me to swear off fast food and soda forever, but even more shocking is Spurlock's foray into school-lunch programs. Many schools pay for lunch plans that feed their children the equivalent of fast food: pizza, French fries and sugar-loaded drinks. Spurlock compares these with another school that serves organic food. He reports that the overall cost is about the same, but the result in behavior and grade point averages is markedly different.
Spurlock appears on camera throughout "Super Size Me" and he proves a likeable and charismatic tour guide, not unlike a New Yorker version of Michael Moore. A veteran of MTV and Internet programming, he also provides colorful graphics and animation to keep his film moving at a breezy clip. Viewers beware: Spurlock worms his way into a liposuction operation and documents bits of unwanted fat as they leave the patient's body. You might not only give up fast food forever, but you might also vomit up any that you've eaten in the past six months.
Between "Super Size Me" and the upcoming documentary "The Corporation," Americans appear to be standing up for themselves and questioning the level of advertising and brainwashing that enters our lives. Like "Bowling for Columbine," these documentaries could actually make a change for the better. (Though they claim it has nothing to do with the movie, McDonald's recently eliminated its entire super size menu.)
Finally, we're as mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore.
***1/2 out of ****
(98m | PG-13)