Generally well-received, then largely ignored, look at the indomitable rise of MacDonald’s usurper Ray Kroc could be held as a prime example of the pitfalls of end-of-the-year Award-Season mentality. Rushed out for a brief Oscar® qualifying run at year’s end before ‘going wide’ in hopes of reaping critical buzz (standard op for a hard-to-place prestige item), it got lost in the crowd even as its Weinstein stablemate LION won 6 noms.* In truth, the problem was less in a botched release then in an under-realized product. Frustratingly so, as you can see the outline of a more effective, more eccentric pic (once envisioned?) right below the surface of what director John Lee Hancock & scripter Robert Siegel pulled from the material. You get a feel for the artistic road not taken right from the start, watching Michael Keaton's Kroc trudge 1950s Stateside byways with his multi-mixer shake maker, finally coming across the original McDonald’s hamburger joint. A living breathing dream of modern efficiency-oriented Americana, it’s love at first sight/site with Keaton & burger-brothers Nick Offerman & John Carroll Lynch bopping rhythmic dialogue back-and-forth, chomping at the bit to work their inner Robert Preston; sniffing each other out like flimflam salesman & Iowa locals in a road company MUSIC MAN. But the partnership sours as it blooms, and high ideals darken as Kroc’s killer-instincts pervert toward something more like CITIZEN KANE. (Here, the ‘tell’ is a divorce propositioned at the dining table.) It’s a great concept, merging MUSIC MAN and CITIZEN KANE, but the makers lost their way (more likely got cold feet), scared of the eccentric stylization the project was begging for. Instead, a decent bio-pic, with good perfs; no more. A shame, even adding some bright shiny ‘60s-style TechniColor (think BACK TO THE FUTURE/’85) might have made all the difference.
DOUBLE-BILL: Francis Coppola showed a similar lack of gumption & confidence when he revamped TUCKER/’88 (failed American dreamer with cars instead of hamburgers) from Comden & Green stylized musical into standard bio-pic.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *The Weinsteins show a Ray Kroc ruthlessness every award season, throwing their slate at the wall, seeing what sticks, flogging it to death.