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Like “The Social Network” with hamburgers, “The Founder” details the ruthless business dealings that shaped the McDonald’s fast food empire.

Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc, a traveling salesman whose folksy demeanor masks the cutthroat businessman underneath his surface. While peddling milkshake machines to restaurants, he comes across the McDonald’s food stand in Southern California, is bewildered by its efficiency, and sees big opportunity that McDonald brothers Mac (John Carrol Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman) can’t envision.

He makes a deal to franchise the restaurant, but is met with opposition at every turn by the brothers. But as Kroc’s ambition and taste for power grow, he makes deals that eventually cut the brothers out of their own company.

It’s just business, and “The Founder” isn’t an indictment on Kroc as much as it’s a portrait of an American businessman and that most wholesome of American businesses.

Too bad director John Lee Hancock, who made “The Blind Side” and the behind-the-scenes “Mary Poppins” tale “Saving Mr. Banks,” is so clunky in his direction, especially early on when the brothers explain the efficiency of their kitchen in a ponderous scene that combines voiceover and flashbacks. And poor Laura Dern is saddled with a thankless role as Kroc’s drag of a wife; she might as well wear a sign around her neck that reads “Party Pooper” every time she’s on screen.

Keaton’s characterization of Kroc doesn’t truly comes alive until a late scene where he describes what makes McDonald’s work so well: It’s the name, stupid. “The Founder” is a bit like McDonald’s: it’s satisfying, but it leaves you hungry for more.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘The Founder’

GRADE: C+

Rated PG-13: for brief strong language

Running time: 115 minutes

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