McMovie: Bulking up with Ronald

Everything's super in the summer: superstars playing superheroes in superbudgeted supermovies that often turn out to be superdisappointments.

The most super movie of Summer 2004 may turn out to be a low-budget, video-shot documentary about Americans' eating habits: Super Size Me.

Morgan Spurlock gives Michael Moore competition in the area of documentaries that entertain, inform, and inflame. Spurlock is less abrasive than Moore or Showtime's Penn & Teller (though you may not think so if you own a fast food franchise) but he's still able to have fun with a serious subject.

He begins with statistics about the growing problem of obesity in America (60 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, obesity is second only to smoking among preventable causes of death in America) and our dependence on fast food, which a quarter of the population eats every day.

A Frenchwoman notes that a "small" soft drink at McDonald's here is equal to a "large" in her country (and you thought the only difference is that they call it "le Big Mac"!). Spurlock points out that today's "small" was the only size offered when McDonald's first opened.

Putting his mouth where his mouth is, Spurlock embarks on an experiment to eat nothing for 30 days he can't buy at McDonald's, to eat three meals a day there and to try everything on the menu at least once; and not to "supersize" unless the option is offered to him.

With the grudging support but not blessing of his girlfriend, a vegan chef, and a cadre of doctors, Spurlock has himself measured and tested before he starts and monitored periodically during the McMonth. He goes from 185.5 to 210 pounds and 11 to 18 percent body fat. His cholesterol climbs from 168 to 230 and his liver goes to hell along with his sex life. He's tired and has wild mood swings.

Being on camera may make Spurlock a bit of a drama queen in discussing his symptoms, and it's not clear why the Double Cheeseburger Meal makes him puke his guts out on the second day.

While the experiment is going on, Spurlock looks at a smorgasbord of nutrition-related issues, from litigants blaming McDonald's for their obesity to surgical options to the junk food in the school lunch program and the lack of mandatory phys ed for school kids.

Among the people we meet are Subway spokesperson and former fatty Jared Fogle and Big Mac enthusiast Don Gorske, who looks reasonably trim and healthy after consuming 19,000 of the sandwiches on sesame seed buns.

Texas gets a bad rap for its super size reputation and the fact that five of the top 15 fattest cities in American are located there. Houston, number one at the time of filming, has since been passed by Detroit.

A case is made for making more information about nutritional content available, but I would argue there's already more than the average American can wade through. What we need is a simple rating system, perhaps on a 10 scale, for a food item's overall healthiness, followed by a list of the areas which earned it negative points.

The next danger is that the seemingly inevitable success of Super Size Me will swell Spurlock's head the way McDonald's food did his stomach and he'll be a lot more obnoxious in future efforts.

Or he may become an opportunist and lend his name to a line of health foods, vitamins, etc., effectively becoming the next Dr. Atkins. Overeating isn't the only trait Americans are known for.