Thursday, May 26, 2011
Review: "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold"
"The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" is a documentary along the lines of director/co-writer/star Morgan Spurlock's breakout hit, "Super Size Me." It's a gimmick, but a pretty clever one.
Instead of gorging on McDonald's food and discovering that it makes you fat, Spurlock jumps headlong into the world of product placement in movies, television and so on. He doesn't do so in the most obvious way, by showing some of the most egregious examples and allowing us to laugh at the clumsy, naked crassness of it all (although there is a little of that, like the toadying employee offering his boss a Subway chicken teriyaki foot-long).
No, Spurlock -- whose filmmaking sensibilities run more to the arm-twisting of Michael Moore crossed with the look-at-me showmanship of a P.T. Barnum -- wants to illustrate the evils of marketing by loading his movie up with advertising messages and product placements.
The entire film is, in fact, about its own making. Spurlock goes around to advertising agencies and corporate headquarters to pitch them to sign on as a sponsor of the documentary he's shooting about product placement. For instance, he tells POM Wonderful (a pomegranate juice maker) that if they sign on as the signature sponsor for a cool million bucks, he'll never been seen drinking anything else in the movie. And he's true to his word.
(Thus, for technical and contractual reasons, the film's actual title is "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.")
Other sponsors, willing to risk Spurlock's reputation as a rabble-rouser -- albeit a smiling, apple-cheeked one -- come onboard. There are even actual 30-second commercials woven into the film starring Spurlock schlepping for companies like JetBlue, Old Navy and the Hyatt hotel chain.
In essence, he's selling out to find out what it's like to be a sellout.
There aren't really any profound truths or surprising insights to be found along this journey. By allowing the audience to tag along into the pitch meetings and listen in on the phone calls, we learn that most companies are fanatical about protecting their brand names, and that there are a whole lot of kooky and egotistical people involved in the marketing of these products.
But like "Super Size Me," it's an undeniably entertaining ride, with Spurlock as our engaging, impish host who brings a giddy enthusiasm to his merrymaking-slash-pranksterism.
The movie is less interesting in the (perhaps inevitable) sections where Spurlock questions himself and his project, and whether he's just becoming part of the problem he was trying to lampoon, and asks celebrities like Donald Trump to weigh in.
It's just an unnecessary downbeat to include things like professional scold Ralph Nader telling us how advertising is basically just professional-grade lying. But then, Spurlock punctures the sour mood by trying to hock a pair of shoes to Nader, who obliges.
Ultimately, the thing Spurlock sells best in "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" is himself.
3 stars out of four