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Movie Review: Take Out

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I have a love-hate relationship with our beloved fast food industry. Whenever I scarf down a large size "value meal" and promptly sink into my grease-induced depression, I climb upon my rickety soap box and bemoan the death of the American waistline. I vow never to set foot inside or pilot my automobile through any of those poison-peddling merchants ever again. Then, days later, I'm setting foot inside or piloting my automobile through some greedy meat-dealing conglomerate's sorry excuse for a restaurant. My resolve, I'm afraid, is weaker than a dollar store diaper. Weep for me, children. Weep hard.

Which is why such thought provoking fare as Seth Landau's 2005 comedic gem Take Out is so important in this day and age. If your average burger-munching moron isn't willing to educate himself about the chemicals and by-products he shovels into his gaping maw on a daily basis, I guess it's up to the film industry to set him on the right path. Whether or not they listen, of course, is another matter altogether. Like the ancient Chinese proverb says: "You can lead an idiot to water, but sometimes you have to dunk his head into the pond to make him understand what it's used for."

Or something to that effect.

Future indie hero Seth Landau stars as Zack Turk, a disgruntled food critic forced to endure the middle American purgatory known as the "family-style restaurant." Accompanied by his mouthy girlfriend Connie, the two venture into various eateries to partake in the wholesome tradition of dining out. As our hero confronts a nauseating list of putrid cuisine, he slowly begins to realize that these cancerous chains are contributing to the slow decay of our way of life.

His Texas-style editor, fearing a rebellion from his greedy advertisers, won't let poor Zack print the deep fried truth. His solution: sneak his unedited story into the paper anyway, resulting in a full-on revolt against the greasy proprietors of these soul-sucking establishments. This, of course, drops our hero into the center of a media firestorm, which could result in severe bodily harm. Can Zack spearhead his heath-oriented campaign without finding himself rotting away in an early grave?

Pitch black comedies, executed with just enough heart to override the snarky venom, are always a blast to watch. And being a self-proclaimed pop culture junkie, I'm always up for a film that takes a slightly skewed approach to lampooning our country's many unnatural obsessions. Director/writer/producer/star Seth Landau manages to inject some much needed levity into his often heavy-handed approach to manhandling the countless chain restaurants that are popping up like throbbing cold sores across our once glorious nation. He's essentially a goal-oriented Kevin Smith without the onslaught of dick and fart jokes. Whether or not Landau appreciates the comparison remains to be seen. Trust me: it's a good thing, Seth. A very good thing.

Landau's deft sense of humor and his natural gift for comedy provide a number of inspired moments, ranging from a Natural Born Killers-style faux sitcom to several chuckle-worthy newscasts peppered with lewd and crude commentary. He also manages to work a brilliant Back to the Future reference into the script during our hero's first assignment as a professional food critic. There are many like-minded bits throughout the course of the film, some more effective than others.

As smart as the picture is, there are some elements that seem either undeveloped or simply out of place. The film's conclusion, for example, races to an abrupt climax that's both jarring and incomplete. Instead of jumping into the not-so-distant future to catch up with our heroes as they embark on their respective missions, I would have preferred to see them sit back, relax, and watch as the world begins to change. There are also a few characters who show up, crack wise, and promptly disappear, never to be seen again. While they do serve to drive the story forward, the same could have easily been accomplished with people who appear throughout the picture. Small complaints, I know, but you have to take the bad with the good.

That said, Landau and company have accomplished quite a bit with such a tiny budget, rumored to be around thirteen thousand dollars. There are only a handful of times when these limitations shine through, and unless you're as watchful as I am, chances are you'll never notice them. For a micro-budget production, Take Out is surprisingly competent. It's well-shot, well-lit, and free of those annoying sound problems usually associated with films of this nature, proving once again that you don't need an outrageous amount of cash to execute a high quality motion picture. Ingenuity often breeds excellence, or so my forture cookie dealer tells me.

As you well know, a good script and technical know-how will only get you so far in this business. Thankfully, Landau has assembled a talented group of actors to bring his inky black farce to life. Though most of the major roles are handled by a cast of dedicated up-and-comers, there are a few familiar faces sprinkled throughout the course of the picture. Justin Walker (Clueless), Judd Omen (Pee Wee's Big Adventure), Daniel Roebuck (Straight Into Darkess, Bubba Ho-Tep, TV's Lost), and Chase Masterson (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) are probably the movie's most famous faces, but don't assume they're the best of the bunch. In this case, the unknowns easily rule the roost. Keri Marrone is suitably annoying as Zack's half-Italian girlfriend Connie, and Yeni Alvarez is charming as his office buddy Amy. However, it's Seth Landau who shines the brightest, turning in a brilliant deadpan performance as our heroic reporter Zack Turk. Without the combined effort of all involved, his script would never have been given the voice is truly deserves.

Take Out is independent comedy done right. Though the conclusion might not be as powerful as it could have been and the disappearing character act does grow a bit tiresome towards the end, the film still stands as a fine example of how those with drive, vision, and purpose can deliver a whip-smart motion picture with very limited funding. I wish all indie projects could strive for this kind of excellence.

And if you're like me, a guy who lambastes the fast food industry while stuffing a greasy burger into his mouth, you'll certainly appreciate Landau's idealistic point of view. It may not sway those who mainline McDonald's snack wraps on a regular basis, but it might just make them take a good hard look at the food on the end of their fork. Naked Lunch, indeed. If Take Out happens to be playing in your neighborhood, grab a table and flag down a waitress.

Oh, and be sure to try to the lamb crotch.

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