plantz

Writer-director Lee Fulkerson (left) talks with his physician, Dr. Matthew Lederman (right), in “Forks Over Knives,” a documentary extolling the virtues of a plant-based diet.

MONICA BEACH MEDIA

I'm guessing that after every screening of "Forks Over Knives," the theater is littered with half-empty popcorn boxes and unfinished containers of soda.

Because this well-meaning documentary immediately makes you feel guilty about eating junk food, or red meat, or anything that isn't part of a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Which is the point, I suppose.

Writer-director Lee Fulkerson's film is an unabashed advocate for such a diet and two of its leading proponents, researcher T. Colin Campbell and surgeon Caldwell Esselstyn. The film follows the work of the two men, as well as the amazing transformations that occurred in the lives of several unhealthy middle-aged patients when they switched from a traditional Western diet to a plant-based diet.

How even-handed is the film? Well, Fulkerson is one of those patients. He dutifully includes a couple of token naysayers who insist that meat products are essential to a healthy and balanced diet (remember the food pyramid?), but the film never really engages with those counter-arguments.

The transformations are undeniably impressive — we see one elderly breast cancer survivor who becomes an Ironman athlete, another obese Cleveland woman who slims down and seems to burst to life before our eyes. The film's researchers seem to have a lot of data to back up their claim that not only can this healthy diet prevent people from getting cancer or heart disease, it can reverse the progress of those diseases in people already afflicted.

But while the movie's aims are undeniably noble and its message thought-provoking, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Flat and repetitive, "Forks Over Knives" has all the emotional tension of an instructional video on how to program your DVD player.

Presented with the compelling information in the film, it's an open question whether viewers will be ready to give up brats, hamburgers and French fries entirely and learn to love salads and quinoa every night on their dinner plates. At least the film succeeds in making us think about what we put on our plates every day, and the long-term implications of that diet. If the film hadn't been so deathly dull, it might have done more than that.

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