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From 23 May 2004 Issue

One Man's Gorge-ous Mess
'Super Size Me,' Sampling Our Appetite for Self-Destruction
By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 7, 2004; Page C05

"Super Size Me," Morgan Spurlock's documented mission to live for a month exclusively on Big Macs, french fries and other McDonald's food and drink -- three times a day -- is basically a horror flick.

Let's face it: Like any vampire or wolfman movie, it's about the alarming changes the antihero sees in the mirror. Oh my God, what's happening to me? A likable lad from West Virginia and an NYU film-school grad in his early thirties, Spurlock decided to see what an overabundance of McJunk can do to you. So he drives to selected cities to eat from a number of Golden Arches restaurants. In so doing, he transforms from a healthy young man to a bloated, slow-moving mutant who, at one point, must lean out of his car to vomit.

As he gets bigger, sicker and unhappier by the day, his inner circle watches with increasing anxiety. His vegan girlfriend, cringing from the get-go, observes his descent into social and sexual sluggishness. Three concerned doctors monitor alarming changes in his cholesterol level and other vital signs. (Also in the consultative circle: a nutritionist and exercise physiologist.) And Spurlock's initially peppy humor turns darker and burpier.

Of course, Spurlock's undertaking (prompted by news reports of two teenagers suing McDonald's, unsuccessfully, over their obesity) is a disingenuous stunt. People in their right mind don't eat this stuff round the clock, or if they do, they're so lost in the super-sizing zone, they're beyond all hope. So it doesn't seem earth-shattering for Spurlock to "discover" that if he shovels fast food down his gullet and restricts his exercise (he's trying to duplicate the typical American's "fitness" habits), well, he's going to look like a Mayflower van.

Not too surprisingly, "Super Size Me" has attracted a flurry of criticism and counterclaims. The blah-di-blah goes like this: It's not McDonald's or Pepsi's fault (as in, the tobacco companies vis--vis smoking) that people become addicted to their products. This is a matter of personal responsibility. Fast food isn't the only reason for 100 million overweight Americans. And there's even one rival documentary that attempts to demonstrate you can lose weight eating this stuff.

But please, can't we sit back and enjoy some good ol' emotional truth? Why should Michael Moore enjoy all the irresponsible rabble-rousing? It's not hyperbolic to state that the United States has the world's greatest collection of freight-weight humans addicted to high-fructose corn syrup and bad carbs. (One in four Mississippians, we learn, is overweight.) Or that our landscape of fast-food restaurants and quick-stop stores is the dietary equivalent of the killing fields.

Did we mention that, between its exclamation-point revelations, "Super Size Me" happens to be funny? Pointing out that McDonald's restaurants are everywhere, including inside hospitals, Spurlock observes that "at least you're close when the coronary kicks in." He also presents us with animated sequences featuring chickens going through massive shredding tubes to come out at the other end of the line in perfect McNugget shapes. And speaking of Michael Moore, Spurlock makes repeated phone calls to McDonald's (in the style of Moore's "Roger & Me") to speak with someone at the top, to no avail. No surprise there.

Instead, Spurlock speaks with McDonald's customers, who yield amusing observations about their attitudes toward eating fast food. And a lobbyist for a number of fast-food products confesses to Spurlock that his clients' goods are something less than wonderful. When it comes to ridiculing the world of fast food, it seems, there's no lack of material.

But at the heart of this film is deadly serious business. This is a compelling cautionary tale hot-wired to your gag reflex. Watch this documentary and you may never eat fast food casually again. Is that such a terrible thing? Why, you could almost call it socially responsible as much as entertainingly mischievous.

Even if Spurlock's full-on regimen is hardly representative of most normal consumers, his weight gain (more than 24 pounds), cholesterol escalation, breathing difficulties, heart palpitations and rapid liver deterioration (it becomes "like pt," says one doc) surely bear testament to something. I'll take a stab: Hey, everyone. Stop eating so much of this stuff. It can kill you.

Super Size Me (98 minutes, at area theaters) is not rated. It contains obscenity, sexual discussion, vomiting, liposuction and a rectal exam that absolutely no one needs to see.

2004 The Washington Post Company

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