Not Entirely ‘Sold’

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classic

Morgan Spurlock has captured our attentions again in the unpredictable documentary genre with his quirky, outrageous tactics. Modestly titled “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” it is a movie paid for by product placements about making a movie paid for by product placements. Just take a minute to wrap your brain around that.

Contemporary audiences are drowning in so many different forms of advertisements, from billboards to pop-ups and infomercials. Some companies present themselves as intentionally blatant based on the fact that their conspicuity will capture your attention, while others take the subtle approach. Call it under-handed or awkward, especially when the iPad pops up in a “House” episode, but it has become an accepted byproduct of our consumerist culture.

Spurlock’s venture unveils the business side of the interdependent relations between companies and film production entities. Representing those who would seek funding for their movies and shows, Spurlock reaches out to potential sponsors for his film. He does this with a gifted ease, pitching his vision in a savvy manner.

While most stare on with bewildered and doubtful expressions toward his plan (especially after his brutal assailment through “Super Size Me”), a few become amused, listening with polite and even interested nods. All this time, the camera is rolling.

The concept works fairly well. In fact, its title stems from Spurlock’s management to snag POM Wonderful as the lead sponsor, receiving a million dollars in the process. Smaller sponsors like Hyatt Hotels, JetBlue and Trident fill out the rest of his total $1.5-million backing.

Spurlock holds a certain degree of influence, nearly equating himself to that of a brand.  He’s shown pitching his patrons through excessive logos and the occasional, innocent sips of a POM.

In between his endeavors, Spurlock meets with film directors, musicians, agents, lawyers, politicians and a placement specialist. Ralph Nader, Donald Trump and Quentin Tarantino top the list, with Tarantino grumbling over his desire to shoot scenes for “Pulp Fiction” and “Reservoir Dogs” at Denny’s but the company executives barred him from doing so. To add a more wholesome note to his survey of opinions, he interviews random people to describe their style of fashion and their thoughts on product placement.

Playing an OK Go number (properly labeled “The Greatest Song I Ever Heard”), the movie flows in a Spurlock-style comedy. When acting for a Mane ’n Tail shampoo commercial, he washes himself and a miniature pony within the bounds of a tin bathtub. He is also paid to say fun tidbits such as how the pomegranate juice they use is 100 percent pomegranate juice, a complete contrast to Minute Maid’s, which is mostly apple and grape juice, with pomegranate finishing under 2 percent.

Clearly, Spurlock is enjoying himself in the process. With his affable personality and flexibility in thorny situations, this cinematic creation offers entertainment. Nevertheless, Spurlock focuses too much on the products themselves rather than addressing the issues at hand.

Furthermore, Spurlock’s project lacks in the information department. Perhaps he did very little research and has no facts to offer or he wishes to not be aggressive as a safeguard toward the 20 or so companies that provided the entire costs for the movie. Whatever the reason may be, the documentary becomes void of a message, remaining ambiguous for a perplexed audience.

His forward approach is admirable, slightly fresh and does bring attention to the corporate takeover in every niche of America and, perhaps, the rest of the industrialized and developing countries. After all, he was the one who gave us a lovely reminder to not gobble down those crispy, sodium-laden fries by demonstrating a feat of gaining a whopping 25 pounds along with a helping of liver failure.

Yet Spurlock tells what, I believe, most people already have perceived: he assumes his audience to be oblivious of the advertisements and repugnant of the exhibitions of endorsements.

With a resume of “30 Days,” a reality show and the failed project “Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden,” the star doesn’t exactly have the greatest success rate. Still, having already been released at the Sundance Film Festival to positive reception, Spurlock’s work is sure to entertain any viewer. Although he makes a point eventually, the question remains: is it brought to a new level? No. His likeable character and ambition to uncover marketing strategies only partially hides the shortage of knowledge and critique. At least the originality and humor can distract you for the rest of the time.

Rating: 3/5 Stars