Morgan Spurlocks follow-up to the Big Mac-guzzling documentary is a vanity project that fails to uncover anything groundbreaking
Morgan Spurlock is his own worst enemy. Ever since he bottomed out Americas collective stomach in 2004 with the fast food expos Super Size Me, Spurlocks films have gradually nudged his public persona into the foreground at the expense of the trenchant reportage that originally endeared him to us. Though his vanity hit its nadir with the male-grooming documentary Mansome a feature-length ode to Spurlocks trademark handlebar stache that narcissism still threatens to eclipse the subject at hand. And by revisiting his breakout pet topic of cheap foods steep costs, Spurlocks made his own self-absorption more abundantly present than ever.
Super Size Me tracked one mans masochistic descent into a hell made of Big Macs, his suffering illustrating what would have otherwise been left as talking points. His latest endeavor, awkwardly titled Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!, places Spurlock at the center of the film once again. But this time, his journey doesnt send him to the ends of experience. Instead, he goes on a smug odyssey of know-it-all-ism that yields a scant few factoids we didnt already learn from his first film.
Worse still, the entire concept revolves around Spurlocks own celebrity. The film begins with a montage of talking-head news broadcasts from Columbus, Ohio all reporting on the same odd story, that that rascally documentarian Spurlocks latest stunt is an all-new chicken-to-go restaurant in town. Lines are out the door on opening day, as curious parties wait to figure out what his game is. With this brief snippet of footage, he undermines his own point in two minutes flat: Spurlock wants to figure out if a regular guy with no idea what hes doing can start his own chicken shack, but the deck is already stacked in his favor. Hes not some quixotic yokel on an underdog mission to bring poultry to the people, hes an extremely rich and well-connected figure who can afford to spend his money and time with elite branding consultants in plush office buildings. The fat cats of Big Chicken are surely guilty of an unfair advantage, but Spurlocks not entirely innocent of the same sin.
Mostly, however, were reminded that fast food is still bad for you and that big-box eateries are very crafty about convincing consumers otherwise. The first forty minutes play like an intro-level media analysis class, as a crack team of marketing experts walk Spurlock through the subtle deceptions of fast-food advertising. Bandying about meaningless buzzwords like artisan and responsibly sourced has gotten the likes of Subway and Wendys pretty far, and Spurlock takes to the hucksterism like a fish in dirty water. As he and his image-management sidekicks survey their newly purchased domain, one points to a wall that would be perfect for propaganda. Nothing especially mind-blowing here, save the minor detail that using dark food dye to make imitation grill marks is an age-old trade secret.
The film only has the impact Spurlock clearly wants it to when its pulling back the curtain on patently evil practices from the seemingly nefarious folks at Purdue and Tyson. Among the more shocking revelations mined from industry nitty-gritty: that the terms all natural and free-range mean bupkus, that it is absurdly easy to con the USDA into certifying subpar meat (mostly because they dont give a damn), and most affecting of all, that chicken manufacturers are systematically suffocating the farmers that purchase and raise the birds. To his credit, Spurlock simply and thoroughly explains the infuriating tournament system through which Big Chicken chooses which farmers will receive which fowl. The complicated process essentially enables distributors to keep the salt-of-the-earth types spreading the feed in permanent debt, a no-win situation one farmer compares to indentured servitude. If the fearsome totality of Purdues power wasnt clear, a disgruntled ex-employee only speaks out when his face and voice are disguised, for the sake of his personal well-being.
Spurlocks urge to follow up on Super Size Me didnt have to be a bad idea. He makes fleeting mention of a sea change in fast food culture early on in the film, sharply observing that fast-casual burger chains like Five Guys and Shake Shack have got the old guard running scared and rethinking their business models. (After twelve years away from McDonalds, Spurlock is shocked to find upon his return that the place now resembles an actual restaurant, and not a building-sized childrens toy.) Unfortunately, he blows right past it so that he can get back to the Morgan Spurlock show. Thats what this is all really about, not chicken but ego. When Spurlock gets wind of a menacing email from a head-honcho chicken executive, he puts on a face like hes disturbed that such a large corporation has targeted little old him. But Spurlocks a much worse actor than documentarian. We can tell he loves it.