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Spurlock's documentary a clever concept that's not fully executed
April 22, 2011 - Cory Giger
PITTSBURGH -- One of the things that made Morgan Spurlock's "Super Size Me" outstanding was that it wasn't just a gimmicky, one-trick-pony documentary. Sure, he had a great gimmick eating nothing but McDonald's for a month, but the amount of research that went into the project was impressive and revealing.
The clever and witty Spurlock isn't able to recapture that magic in his latest documentary, "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold."
It's an intriguing documentary -- and very funny at times. I laughed out loud at least a half-dozen times during the first 45 minutes as Spurlock tries to convince companies to finance his film.
That's the gimmick, and it works -- for a while.
Spurlock makes it work because he's an interesting character who's trying to do something interesting, much the same as in "Super Size Me."
The difference with "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" is that there's never really a payoff or an overall point for the viewer. The novelty wears off and the laughs are fewer and far between for much of the clunky final 45 minutes.
This would be OK if Spurlock kept presenting new, interesting and useful information, but he doesn't.
The documentary is about how product placement has become such a big part of the movie business, but there's simply not enough material in the finished product to show us just how prevalent it is or, more importantly, if it's even a problem.
Simply taking a camera and telling people, "Look, there are lots of products in movies" doesn't reveal that those products being there really affects us as moviegoers.
Watching "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," there's a scene where Will Ferrell's family is sitting down to a huge dinner of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, and Ferrell's character even goes out of his way to mention Powerade. It's a very funny scene -- "Chip, I'm all jacked up on Mountain Dew," one of the little brat kids says -- and it doesn't matter at all that those products are there. I don't even notice them when Ferrell and John C. Reilly are having a bizarre discussion about praying to baby Jesus versus grown Jesus ("I like my Jesus to wear a tuxedo T-shirt because it says I want to be formal, but I'm here to party," Reilly says).
See, I can recite those lines from memory because they were part of a good scene, and whether there are products in the scene or not doesn't change that.
Then there was Adam Sandler hitting a Subway sandwich 300 yards with a golf club in "Happy Gilmore." OK, so it was blatant product placement, but it was also funny. Kudos to the filmmaker for finding a unique way to use the product.
Spurlock attempts to make a connection that someday the advertisers will start demanding control of the script simply because their products are in the film, but he delivers no evidence of this.
In fact, there really is no hard evidence of anything in the documentary, not the kind that Spurlock researched and revealed in "Super Size Me," anyway.
The film doesn't tell us:
* How many products are placed in a typical movie, how long they are on screen and how much does it cost each to be there. This would have been fantastic to see on an individual basis, and the statistics would have driven home the point of just how much we are bombarded by this stuff.
* Which movies in recent years have used little to no product placement compared to ones that used a ton of it. Spurlock should have had a crack research assistant watch 40 or so films and tell us that "Talladega Nights" had 20 or 30 or 40 instances or whatever, while "Inception" had five or 10 or 15.
* What percentage of a film's overall budget can come from product placement. This is an important element, especially if it's an incredibly high number, which would lend credence to Spurlock's notion that advertisers potentially may be able to have a lot of control over the finished product.
"The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" tries to tackle what may seem like an important topic to movie buffs who care about things like product placement and their impact. But the film often feels like too much of an inside story, telling average moviegoers less-than-stellar details about things they probably don't care about.
If Spurlock would have been able to connect the dots more and show us why we should care, his documentary would have served a better purpose. Instead, we're left with a clever concept and some funny one-liners in a documentary that doesn't quite deliver the message it wants to deliver.
Cory Giger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org