A comic documentary about America's attempt to reclaim dominance in the sport of competitive hot-dog eating, "Red, White & Yellow" plays like an extended "Saturday Night Live" mockumentary. But Chris Farley never created a character quite as complicated or compelling as Ed (The Animal) Kratchie, a 330-pound eating machine who wears his title as "The Mohammed Ali of Hot-Dog Eating" as if it were a crown of thorns. In their debut, Marshall Dostal and Mark Littman shoot and score in their attempt to make farce and broad spectacle. But they neglect the sadder, more poignant story of Kratchie's transformation from Queens telephone company employee to Coney Island sideshow. Still, the film delivers laughs from start to finish, and should prove ideal for cable outlets looking for a cutting-edge comedy programmer.

A comic documentary about America’s attempt to reclaim dominance in the sport of competitive hot-dog eating, “Red, White & Yellow” plays like an extended “Saturday Night Live” mockumentary. But Chris Farley never created a character quite as complicated or compelling as Ed (The Animal) Kratchie, a 330-pound eating machine who wears his title as “The Mohammed Ali of Hot-Dog Eating” as if it were a crown of thorns. In their debut, Marshall Dostal and Mark Littman shoot and score in their attempt to make farce and broad spectacle. But they neglect the sadder, more poignant story of Kratchie’s transformation from Queens telephone company employee to Coney Island sideshow. Still, the film delivers laughs from start to finish, and should prove ideal for cable outlets looking for a cutting-edge comedy programmer.

Pic focuses on the year Kratchie spends “training” to win back the Intl. Mustard Yellow Belt after losing it to Hirofumi Nakajima, the diminutive Japanese man who broke his world record. The film is predominantly made up of straight-faced, talking-head interviews with the sport’s two great promoters: George Shea, the spokesperson for the Nathan’s hot-dog chain, and Gersh Kuntzman , the passionate reporter for the New York Post who’s the A.J. Liebling of hot dogs. These two men not only relate what an important part hot-dog eating plays in the pantheon of American culture, but provide a history of the Coney Island eating contest, in which men are asked to down as many hot dogs as possible in 12 minutes.

Their strongest moments come when they spin tales of the renegade sport’s great champions. They tell us of Frank (Hollywood) Dellarossa, famous for scarfing “21 in ’91,” and of Mike (The Scholar) Devito, known throughout Brooklyn for his intellectual approach to competitive eating.

It is a tribute to both Shea and Kuntzman that the film can rely so much on their commentary and still be entertaining. But pic really takes off when the focus switches to Ed Kratchie, a shy braggart from Queens who took the hot-dog world by storm when he downed over 22. While there are limited interviews with Kratchie’s mother, bartender and drinking buddies, it’s the commentary of the former champion that give the docu its only emotional depth.

Indeed, it is hard not to feel a pang in your heart when Kratchie confesses, “The way I eat these hot dogs, they taste like shit.” But the filmmakers seem to take Kuntzman and Shea’s view, turning a blind eye to the toll that the sport clearly is taking on Kratchie’s body and soul.

While they may have skirted the story’s more doleful aspects, Dostal and Littman should also be commended for exploring many of the issues the grotesque contest raises, finding time to focus on everyone from the children who want to grow up to be like Kratchie to the anti-meat protesters who picket in front of Nathan’s.

Among the more serious issues is the racism displayed by the Coney Island spectators, who yelled “Noodle Boy” as Nakajima was beating Kratchie during their first competition.

Pic never drags, in large part due to Littman’s top-notch editing. Other tech credits are also solid. Songs choices, from Aaron Copland and Scott Joplin, effectively underscore the film’s ironic patriotism. But rudely animated credits featuring hot dogs and mustard floating in space to “The Dawn of Man,” seem amateurish in relation to the rest of the film.

Red, White & Yellow

(DOCU)

Production

A Northern Lights Post production. Produced, directed by Marshall Dostal, Mark Littman.

Crew

Camera (color), Jon Rosenblatt, John Taggart; editor, Littman; additional editing, John Ennis, Renny Masion; music, Jim Farmer; title sequence graphics, Graham Elliott. Reviewed at Hamptons Film Festival, Oct. 17, 1998. Running time: 79 MIN.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more